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1.1 Invitation

The motion of a point electric charge in flat spacetime was the subject of active investigation since the early work of Lorentz, Abrahams, and Poincaré, until Dirac [25Jump To The Next Citation Point] produced a proper relativistic derivation of the equations of motion in 1938. (The field’s early history is well related in [52Jump To The Next Citation Point].) In 1960 DeWitt and Brehme [24Jump To The Next Citation Point] generalized Dirac’s result to curved spacetimes, and their calculation was corrected by Hobbs [29Jump To The Next Citation Point] several years later. In 1997 the motion of a point mass in a curved background spacetime was investigated by Mino, Sasaki, and Tanaka [39Jump To The Next Citation Point], who derived an expression for the particle’s acceleration (which is not zero unless the particle is a test mass); the same equations of motion were later obtained by Quinn and Wald [49Jump To The Next Citation Point] using an axiomatic approach. The case of a point scalar charge was finally considered by Quinn in 2000 [48Jump To The Next Citation Point], and this led to the realization that the mass of a scalar particle is not necessarily a constant of the motion.

This article reviews the achievements described in the preceding paragraph; it is concerned with the motion of a point scalar charge q, a point electric charge e, and a point mass m in a specified background spacetime with metric gαβ. These particles carry with them fields that behave as outgoing radiation in the wave zone. The radiation removes energy and angular momentum from the particle, which then undergoes a radiation reaction – its world line cannot be simply a geodesic of the background spacetime. The particle’s motion is affected by the near-zone field which acts directly on the particle and produces a self-force. In curved spacetime the self-force contains a radiation-reaction component that is directly associated with dissipative effects, but it contains also a conservative component that is not associated with energy or angular-momentum transport. The self-force is proportional to q2 in the case of a scalar charge, proportional to e2 in the case of an electric charge, and proportional to m2 in the case of a point mass.

In this review I derive the equations that govern the motion of a point particle in a curved background spacetime. The presentation is entirely self-contained, and all relevant materials are developed ab initio. The reader, however, is assumed to have a solid grasp of differential geometry and a deep understanding of general relativity. The reader is also assumed to have unlimited stamina, for the road to the equations of motion is a long one. One must first assimilate the basic theory of bitensors (Section 2), then apply the theory to construct convenient coordinate systems to chart a neighbourhood of the particle’s world line (Section 3). One must next formulate a theory of Green’s functions in curved spacetimes (Section 4), and finally calculate the scalar, electromagnetic, and gravitational fields near the world line and figure out how they should act on the particle (Section 5). The review is very long, but the payoff, I hope, will be commensurate.

In this introductory section I set the stage and present an impressionistic survey of what the review contains. This should help the reader get oriented and acquainted with some of the ideas and some of the notation. Enjoy!

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