It is a widely accepted view (appearing e.g. in excellent, standard textbooks on general relativity, too) that the canonical energy-momentum and spin tensors are well-defined and have relevance only in flat spacetime, and hence usually are underestimated and abandoned. However, it is only the analog of these canonical quantities that can be associated with gravity itself. Thus first we introduce these quantities for the matter fields in a general curved spacetime.

To specify the state of the matter fields operationally two kinds of devices are needed: The first measures the value of the fields, while the other measures the spatio-temporal location of the first. Correspondingly, the fields on the manifold of events can be grouped into two sharply distinguished classes: The first contains the matter field variables, e.g. finitely many -type tensor fields , whilst the other contains the fields specifying the spacetime geometry, i.e. the metric in Einstein’s theory. Suppose that the dynamics of the matter fields is governed by Hamilton’s principle specified by a Lagrangian : If is the volume integral of on some open domain with compact closure then the equations of motion are , the Euler-Lagrange equations. The symmetric (or dynamical) energy-momentum tensor is defined (and is given explicitly) by

where we introduced the so-called canonical spin tensor (The terminology will be justified in the next Section 2.2.) Here is the -type invariant tensor, built from the Kronecker deltas, appearing naturally in the expression of the Lie derivative of the -type tensor fields in terms of the torsion free covariant derivatives: . (For the general idea of deriving and Equation (2), see e.g. Section 3 of [175].)

Suppose that the Lagrangian is weakly diffeomorphism invariant in the sense that for any vector field and the corresponding local 1-parameter family of diffeomorphisms one has

for some 1-parameter family of vector fields . ( is called diffeomorphism invariant if , e.g. when is a scalar.) Let be any smooth vector field on . Then, calculating the divergence to determine the rate of change of the action functional along the integral curves of , by a tedious but straightforward computation one can derive the so-called Noether identity: , where denotes the Lie derivative along , and , the so-called Noether current, is given explicitly by

Here is the derivative of with respect to at , which may depend on and its derivatives, and , the so-called canonical energy-momentum tensor, is defined by Note that, apart from the term , the current does not depend on higher than the first derivative of , and the canonical energy-momentum and spin tensors could be introduced as the coefficients of and its first derivative, respectively, in . (For the original introduction of these concepts, see [56, 57, 323]. If the torsion is not vanishing, then in the Noether identity there is a further term, , where the so-called dynamical spin tensor is defined by , and the Noether current has a slightly different structure [193, 194].) Obviously, is not uniquely determined by the Noether identity, because that contains only its divergence, and any identically conserved current may be added to it. In fact, may be chosen to be an arbitrary non-zero (but divergence free) vector field even for diffeomorphism invariant Lagrangians. Thus, to be more precise, if , then we call the specific combination (3) the canonical Noether current. Other choices for the Noether current may contain higher derivatives of , too (see e.g. [228]), but there is a specific one containing algebraically (see the Points 3 and 4 below). However, is sensitive to total divergences added to the Lagrangian, and, if the matter fields have gauge freedom, then in general it is not gauge invariant even if the Lagrangian is. On the other hand, is gauge invariant and is independent of total divergences added to because it is the variational derivative of the gauge invariant action with respect to the metric. Provided the field equations are satisfied, the Noether identity implies [56, 57, 323, 193, 194] that- ,
- ,
- , where the second term on the right is an identically conserved (i.e. divergence free) current, and
- is conserved if is a Killing vector.

Hence is also conserved and can equally be considered as a Noether current. (For a formally different, but essentially equivalent introduction of the Noether current and identity, see [389, 215, 141].)

The interpretation of the conserved currents and depends on the nature of the Killing vector . In Minkowski spacetime the 10-dimensional Lie algebra of the Killing vectors is well known to split to the semidirect sum of a 4-dimensional commutative ideal, , and the quotient , where the latter is isomorphic to . The ideal is spanned by the constant Killing vectors, in which a constant orthonormal frame field on , , forms a basis. (Thus the underlined Roman indices , , … are concrete, name indices.) By the ideal inherits a natural Lorentzian vector space structure. Having chosen an origin , the quotient can be identified as the Lie algebra of the boost-rotation Killing vectors that vanish at . Thus has a ‘4 + 6’ decomposition into translations and boost-rotations, where the translations are canonically defined but the boost-rotations depend on the choice of the origin . In the coordinate system adapted to (i.e. for which the 1-form basis dual to has the form ) the general form of the Killing vectors (or rather 1-forms) is for some constants and . Then the corresponding canonical Noether current is , and the coefficients of the translation and the boost-rotation parameters and are interpreted as the density of the energy-momentum and the sum of the orbital and spin angular momenta, respectively. Since, however, the difference is identically conserved and has more advantageous properties, it is that is used to represent the energy-momentum and angular momentum density of the matter fields.

Since in the de-Sitter and anti-de-Sitter spacetimes the (ten dimensional) Lie algebra of the Killing vector fields, and , respectively, are semisimple, there is no such natural notion of translations, and hence no natural ‘4 + 6’ decomposition of the ten conserved currents into energy-momentum and (relativistic) angular momentum density.

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