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Line element

In geometry, the line element or length element can be informally thought of as a line segment associated with an
infinitesimal displacement vector in a metric space. The length of the line element, which may be thought of as a differential
arc length, is a function of the metric tensor and is denoted by ds

Line elements are used in physics, especially in theories of gravitation (most notably general relativity) where spacetime is
modelled as a curved Pseudo-Riemannian manifold with an appropriate metric tensor.[1]

Contents
General formulation
Definition using metric
Total arc length
Line elements in Euclidean space
Cartesian coordinates
Orthogonal curvilinear coordinates
General curvilinear coordinates
Line elements in 4d spacetime
Minkowskian spacetime
General spacetime
See also
References

General formulation

Definition using metric


The coordinate-independent definition of the square of the line element ds in an n-dimensional metric space is:[2]

where g is the metric tensor, · denotes inner product, and dq an infinitesimal displacement in the metric space.

In n-dimensional general curvilinear coordinates q = (q1, q2, q3, ..., qn), the square of arc length is:[3][4]

where the indices i and j take values 1, 2, 3, ..., n. Common examples of metric spaces include three-dimensional space (no
inclusion of time coordinates), and indeed four-dimensional spacetime. The metric is the origin of the line element, in
addition to the surface and volume elements etc.

Total arc length


By parameterizing a curve with a parameter λ, so that q(λ), the arc length of the curve between the points q(λ1) and q(λ2) is
the integral:[5]

Line elements in Euclidean space


Following are examples of how the line elements are found from the metric.

Cartesian coordinates
The simplest line element is in Cartesian coordinates - in which case the metric
is just the Kronecker delta:

(here i, j = 1, 2, 3 for space) or in matrix form (i denotes row, j denotes column): Vector line element dr (green) in 3d
Euclidean space, where λ is a
parameter of the space curve (light
green).

The general curvilinear coordinates reduce to Cartesian coordinates:

so

Orthogonal curvilinear coordinates


For all orthogonal coordinates the metric is given by:[6]

where

for i = 1, 2, 3 are scale factors, so the square of the line element is:
Some examples of line elements in these coordinates are below.[7]

Coordinate system (q1, q2, q3) Metric Line element

Plane polars (r, θ)

Spherical polars (r, θ, φ)

Cylindrical polars (r, θ, z)

General curvilinear coordinates


Given an arbitrary basis of a space of dimension , the metric is defined as the inner product of the basis vectors.

Where and the inner product is with respect to the ambient space (usually its )

In a coordinate basis

The coordinate basis is a special type of basis that is regularly used in differential geometry.

Line elements in 4d spacetime

Minkowskian spacetime
The Minkowski metric is:[8][9]

where one sign or the other is chosen, both conventions are used. This applies only for flat spacetime. The coordinates are
given by the 4-position:

so the line element is:


General spacetime
The coordinate-independent definition of the square of the line element ds in spacetime is:[10]

In terms of coordinates:

where for this case the indices α and β run over 0, 1, 2, 3 for spacetime.

This is the spacetime interval - the measure of separation between two arbitrarily close events in spacetime. In special
relativity it is invariant under Lorentz transformations. In general relativity it is invariant under arbitrary invertible
differentiable coordinate transformations.

See also
Covariance and contravariance of vectors
First fundamental form
List of integration and measure theory topics
Metric tensor
Ricci calculus
Raising and lowering indices

References
1. Gravitation, J.A. Wheeler, C. Misner, K.S. Thorne, W.H. Freeman & Co, 1973, ISBN 0-7167-0344-0
2. Tensor Calculus, D.C. Kay, Schaum’s Outlines, McGraw Hill (USA), 1988, ISBN 0-07-033484-6
3. Vector Analysis (2nd Edition), M.R. Spiegel, S. Lipcshutz, D. Spellman, Schaum’s Outlines, McGraw Hill (USA), 2009,
ISBN 978-0-07-161545-7
4. An introduction to Tensor Analysis: For Engineers and Applied Scientists, J.R. Tyldesley, Longman, 1975, ISBN 0-582-
44355-5
5. Vector Analysis (2nd Edition), M.R. Spiegel, S. Lipcshutz, D. Spellman, Schaum’s Outlines, McGraw Hill (USA), 2009,
ISBN 978-0-07-161545-7
6. Vector Analysis (2nd Edition), M.R. Spiegel, S. Lipcshutz, D. Spellman, Schaum’s Outlines, McGraw Hill (USA), 2009,
ISBN 978-0-07-161545-7
7. Tensor Calculus, D.C. Kay, Schaum’s Outlines, McGraw Hill (USA), 1988, ISBN 0-07-033484-6
8. Relativity DeMystified, D. McMahon, Mc Graw Hill (USA), 2006, ISBN 0-07-145545-0
9. Gravitation, J.A. Wheeler, C. Misner, K.S. Thorne, W.H. Freeman & Co, 1973, ISBN 0-7167-0344-0
10. Gravitation, J.A. Wheeler, C. Misner, K.S. Thorne, W.H. Freeman & Co, 1973, ISBN 0-7167-0344-0

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