### 1.5 World line and retarded coordinates

To flesh out the ideas contained in the preceding Section 1.4 I add yet another layer of mathematical formalism and construct a convenient coordinate system to chart a neighbourhood of the particle’s world line. In the next Section 1.6 I will display explicit expressions for the retarded, singular, and radiative fields of a point electric charge.

Let be the world line of a point particle in a curved spacetime. It is described by parametric relations in which is proper time. Its tangent vector is and its acceleration is ; we shall also encounter .

On we erect an orthonormal basis that consists of the four-velocity and three spatial vectors labelled by a frame index . These vectors satisfy the relations , , and . We take the spatial vectors to be Fermi–Walker transported on the world line: , where

are frame components of the acceleration vector; it is easy to show that Fermi–Walker transport preserves the orthonormality of the basis vectors. We shall use the tetrad to decompose various tensors evaluated on the world line. An example was already given in Equation (17) but we shall also encounter frame components of the Riemann tensor,
as well as frame components of the Ricci tensor,
We shall use and its inverse to lower and raise frame indices, respectively.

Consider a point in a neighbourhood of the world line . We assume that is sufficiently close to the world line that a unique geodesic links to any neighbouring point on . The two-point function , known as Synge’s world function [55], is numerically equal to half the squared geodesic distance between and ; it is positive if and are spacelike related, negative if they are timelike related, and is zero if and are linked by a null geodesic. We denote its gradient by , and gives a meaningful notion of a separation vector (pointing from to ).

To construct a coordinate system in this neighbourhood we locate the unique point on which is linked to by a future-directed null geodesic (this geodesic is directed from to ); I shall refer to as the retarded point associated with , and will be called the retarded time. To tensors at we assign indices , , …; this will distinguish them from tensors at a generic point on the world line, to which we have assigned indices , , …. We have , and is a null vector that can be interpreted as the separation between and .

The retarded coordinates of the point are , where are the frame components of the separation vector. They come with a straightforward interpretation (see Figure 4). The invariant quantity

is an affine parameter on the null geodesic that links to ; it can be loosely interpreted as the time delay between and as measured by an observer moving with the particle. This therefore gives a meaningful notion of distance between and the retarded point, and I shall call the retarded distance between and the world line. The unit vector
is constant on the null geodesic that links to . Because is a different constant on each null geodesic that emanates from , keeping fixed and varying produces a congruence of null geodesics that generate the future light cone of the point (the congruence is hypersurface orthogonal). Each light cone can thus be labelled by its retarded time , each generator on a given light cone can be labelled by its direction vector , and each point on a given generator can be labelled by its retarded distance . We therefore have a good coordinate system in a neighbourhood of .

To tensors at we assign indices , , …. These tensors will be decomposed in a tetrad that is constructed as follows: Given we locate its associated retarded point on the world line, as well as the null geodesic that links these two points; we then take the tetrad at and parallel transport it to along the null geodesic to obtain .