The Bartnik mass is a natural quasi-localization of the ADM mass, and its monotonicity and positivity makes it a potentially very useful tool in proving various statements on the spacetime, because it fully characterizes the non-triviality of the finite Cauchy data by a single scalar. However, our personal opinion is that, just by its strict positivity for non-flat 3-dimensional domains, it overestimates the ‘physical’ quasi-local mass. In fact, if is a finite data set for a pp-wave geometry (i.e. a compact subset of the data set for a pp-wave metric), then it probably has an asymptotically flat extension satisfying the dominant energy condition with bounded ADM energy and no apparent horizon between and infinity. Thus while the Dougan-Mason mass of is zero, the Bartnik mass is strictly positive unless is trivial. Thus, this example shows that it is the procedure of taking the asymptotically flat extension that gives strictly positive mass. Indeed, one possible proof of the rigidity part of the positive energy theorem  (see also ) is to prove first that the vanishing of the ADM mass implies, through the Witten equation, that the spacetime admits a constant spinor field, i.e. it is a pp-wave spacetime, and then that the only asymptotically flat spacetime that admits a constant null vector field is the Minkowski spacetime. Therefore, it is just the global condition of the asymptotic flatness that rules out the possibility of non-trivial spacetimes with zero ADM mass. Hence it would be instructive to calculate the Bartnik mass for a compact part of a pp-wave data set. It might also be interesting to calculate its small surface limit to see its connection with the local fields (energy-momentum tensor and probably the Bel-Robinson tensor).
The other very useful definition is the Hawking energy (and its slightly modified version, the Geroch energy). Its advantage is its simplicity, calculability, and monotonicity for special families of 2-surfaces, and it has turned out to be a very effective tool in practice in proving for example the Penrose inequality. The small sphere limit calculation shows that it is energy rather than mass, so in principle one should be able to complete this to an energy-momentum 4-vector. One possibility is Equation (39, 40), but, as far as we are aware, its properties have not been investigated. Unfortunately, although the energy can be defined for 2-surfaces with nonzero genus, it is not clear how the 4-momentum could be extended for such surfaces. Although the Hawking energy is a well-defined 2-surface observable, it has not been linked to any systematic (Lagrangian or Hamiltonian) scenario. Perhaps it does not have any such interpretation, and it is simply a natural (but in general spacetimes for quite general 2-surfaces not quite viable) generalization of the standard round sphere expression (27). This view appears to be supported by the fact that the Hawking energy has strange properties for non-spherical surfaces, e.g. for 2-surfaces in Minkowski spacetime which are not metric spheres.
© Max Planck Society and the author(s)