World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Parameterized post-Newtonian formalism

Article Id: WHEBN0002680620
Reproduction Date:

Title: Parameterized post-Newtonian formalism  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: General relativity, Modern searches for Lorentz violation, PPN, Post-Newtonian expansion, BSSN formalism
Collection: Formalism (Deductive), General Relativity, Theories of Gravitation
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Parameterized post-Newtonian formalism

Post-Newtonian formalism is a calculational tool that expresses Einstein's (nonlinear) equations of gravity in terms of the lowest-order deviations from Newton's law of universal gravitation. This allows approximations to Einstein's equations to be made in the case of weak fields. Higher order terms can be added to increase accuracy, but for strong fields sometimes it is preferable to solve the complete equations numerically. Some of these post-Newtonian approximations are expansions in a small parameter, which is the ratio of the velocity of the matter forming the gravitational field to the speed of light, which in this case is better called the speed of gravity. In the limit, when the fundamental speed of gravity becomes infinite, the post-Newtonian expansion reduces to Newton's law of gravity.

The parameterized post-Newtonian formalism or PPN formalism is a version of this formulation that explicitly details the parameters in which a general theory of gravity can differ from Newtonian gravity. It is used as a tool to compare Newtonian and Einsteinian gravity in the limit in which the gravitational field is weak and generated by objects moving slowly compared to the speed of light. In general, PPN formalism can be applied to all metric theories of gravitation in which all bodies satisfy the Einstein equivalence principle (EEP). The speed of light remains constant in PPN formalism and it assumes that the metric tensor is always symmetric.


  • History 1
  • Beta-delta notation 2
  • Alpha-zeta notation 3
  • How to apply PPN 4
  • Comparisons between theories of gravity 5
  • Accuracy from experimental tests 6
  • References 7
  • See also 8


The earliest parameterizations of the post-Newtonian approximation were performed by Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington in 1922. However, they dealt solely with the vacuum gravitational field outside an isolated spherical body. Dr. Ken Nordtvedt (1968, 1969) expanded this to include 7 parameters. Clifford Martin Will (1971) introduced a stressed, continuous matter description of celestial bodies.

The versions described here are based on Wei-Tou Ni (1972), Will and Nordtvedt (1972), Charles W. Misner et al. (1973) (see Gravitation (book)), and Will (1981, 1993) and have 10 parameters.

Beta-delta notation

Ten post-Newtonian parameters completely characterize the weak-field behavior of the theory. The formalism has been a valuable tool in tests of general relativity. In the notation of Will (1971), Ni (1972) and Misner et al. (1973) they have the following values:

\gamma How much space curvature g_{ij} is produced by unit rest mass ?
\beta How much nonlinearity is there in the superposition law for gravity g_{00} ?
\beta_1 How much gravity is produced by unit kinetic energy \textstyle\frac12\rho_0v^2 ?
\beta_2 How much gravity is produced by unit gravitational potential energy \rho_0/U ?
\beta_3 How much gravity is produced by unit internal energy \rho_0\Pi ?
\beta_4 How much gravity is produced by unit pressure p ?
\zeta Difference between radial and transverse kinetic energy on gravity
\eta Difference between radial and transverse stress on gravity
\Delta_1 How much dragging of inertial frames g_{0j} is produced by unit momentum \rho_0v ?
\Delta_2 Difference between radial and transverse momentum on dragging of inertial frames

g_{\mu\nu} is the 4 by 4 symmetric metric tensor and indexes i and j go from 1 to 3.

In Einstein's theory, the values of these parameters are chosen (1) to fit Newton's Law of gravity in the limit of velocities and mass approaching zero, (2) to ensure conservation of energy, mass, momentum, and angular momentum, and (3) to make the equations independent of the reference frame. In this notation, general relativity has PPN parameters \gamma=\beta=\beta_1=\beta_2=\beta_3=\beta_4=\Delta_1=\Delta_2=1 and \zeta=\eta=0

Alpha-zeta notation

In the more recent notation of Will & Nordtvedt (1972) and Will (1981, 1993, 2006) a different set of ten PPN parameters is used.

\xi is calculated from 3\eta=12\beta-3\gamma-9+10\xi-3\alpha_1+2\alpha_2-2\zeta_1-\zeta_2

The meaning of these is that \alpha_1, \alpha_2 and \alpha_3 measure the extent of preferred frame effects. \zeta_1, \zeta_2, \zeta_3, \zeta_4 and \alpha_3 measure the failure of conservation of energy, momentum and angular momentum.

In this notation, general relativity has PPN parameters

\gamma=\beta=1 and \alpha_1=\alpha_2=\alpha_3=\zeta_1=\zeta_2=\zeta_3=\zeta_4=\xi=0

The mathematical relationship between the metric, metric potentials and PPN parameters for this notation is:

\begin{matrix}g_{00} = -1+2U-2\beta U^2-2\xi\Phi_W+(2\gamma+2+\alpha_3+\zeta_1-2\xi)\Phi_1 +2(3\gamma-2\beta+1+\zeta_2+\xi)\Phi_2 \\ \ +2(1+\zeta_3)\Phi_3+2(3\gamma+3\zeta_4-2\xi)\Phi_4-(\zeta_1-2\xi)A-(\alpha_1-\alpha_2-\alpha_3)w^2U \\ \ -\alpha_2w^iw^jU_{ij}+(2\alpha_3-\alpha_1)w^iV_i+O(\epsilon^3) \end{matrix}
g_{0i}=-\textstyle\frac12(4\gamma+3+\alpha_1-\alpha_2+\zeta_1-2\xi)V_i-\textstyle\frac12(1+\alpha_2-\zeta_1+2\xi)W_i -\textstyle\frac12(\alpha_1-2\alpha_2)w^iU-\alpha_2w^jU_{ij}+O(\epsilon^{\frac52})\;
g_{ij}=(1+2\gamma U)\delta_{ij}+O(\epsilon^2)\;

where repeated indexes are summed. \epsilon is on the order of potentials such as U, the square magnitude of the coordinate velocities of matter, etc. w^i is the velocity vector of the PPN coordinate system relative to the mean rest-frame of the universe. w^2=\delta_{ij}w^iw^j is the square magnitude of that velocity. \delta_{ij}=1 if and only if i=j, 0 otherwise.

There are ten metric potentials, U, U_{ij}, \Phi_W, A, \Phi_1, \Phi_2, \Phi_3, \Phi_4, V_i and W_i, one for each PPN parameter to ensure a unique solution. 10 linear equations in 10 unknowns are solved by inverting a 10 by 10 matrix. These metric potentials have forms such as:


which is simply another way of writing the Newtonian gravitational potential,


where \rho is the density of rest mass, \Pi is the internal energy per unit rest mass, p is the pressure as measured in a local freely falling frame momentarily comoving with the matter, and \mathbf{v} is the coordinate velocity of the matter.

Stress-energy tensor for a perfect fluid takes form

T^{ij}=\rho(1+\Pi+\mathbf{v}^2+2U+p/\rho)v^iv^j+p\delta^{ij}(1-2\gamma U)

How to apply PPN

Examples of the process of applying PPN formalism to alternative theories of gravity can be found in Will (1981, 1993). It is a nine step process:

  • Step 1: Identify the variables, which may include: (a) dynamical gravitational variables such as the metric g_{\mu\nu}\,, scalar field \phi\,, vector field K_\mu\,, tensor field B_{\mu\nu}\, and so on; (b) prior-geometrical variables such as a flat background metric \eta_{\mu\nu}\,, cosmic time function t\,, and so on; (c) matter and non-gravitational field variables.
  • Step 2: Set the cosmological boundary conditions. Assume a homogeneous isotropic cosmology, with isotropic coordinates in the rest frame of the universe. A complete cosmological solution may or may not be needed. Call the results g^{(0)}_{\mu\nu}=\mbox{diag}(-c_0,c_1,c_1,c_1)\,, \phi_0\,, K^{(0)}_\mu\,, B^{(0)}_{\mu\nu}\,.
  • Step 3: Get new variables from h_{\mu\nu}=g_{\mu\nu}-g^{(0)}_{\mu\nu}\,, with \phi-\phi_0\,, K_\mu-K^{(0)}_\mu\, or B_{\mu\nu}-B^{(0)}_{\mu\nu}\, if needed.
  • Step 4: Substitute these forms into the field equations, keeping only such terms as are necessary to obtain a final consistent solution for h_{\mu\nu}\,. Substitute the perfect fluid stress tensor for the matter sources.
  • Step 5: Solve for h_{00}\, to O(2)\,. Assuming this tends to zero far from the system, one obtains the form h_{00}=2\alpha U\, where U\, is the Newtonian gravitational potential and \alpha\, may be a complicated function including the gravitational "constant" G\,. The Newtonian metric has the form g_{00}=-c_0+2\alpha U\,, g_{0j}=0\,, g_{ij}=\delta_{ij}c_1\,. Work in units where the gravitational "constant" measured today far from gravitating matter is unity so set G_{\mbox{today}} = \alpha/c_0 c_1=1\,.
  • Step 6: From linearized versions of the field equations solve for h_{ij}\, to O(2)\, and h_{0j}\, to O(3)\,.
  • Step 7: Solve for h_{00}\, to O(4)\,. This is the messiest step, involving all the nonlinearities in the field equations. The stress–energy tensor must also be expanded to sufficient order.
  • Step 8: Convert to local quasi-Cartesian coordinates and to standard PPN gauge.

Comparisons between theories of gravity

A table comparing PPN parameters for 23 theories of gravity can be found in Alternatives to general relativity#PPN parameters for a range of theories.

Most metric theories of gravity can be lumped into categories. Scalar theories of gravitation include conformally flat theories and stratified theories with time-orthogonal space slices.

In conformally flat theories such as Nordström's theory of gravitation the metric is given by \mathbf{g}=f\boldsymbol{\eta}\, and for this metric \gamma=-1\,, which violently disagrees with observations. In stratified theories such as Yilmaz theory of gravitation the metric is given by \mathbf{g}=f_1\mathbf{d}t \otimes \mathbf{d} t +f_2\boldsymbol{\eta}\, and for this metric \alpha_1=-4(\gamma+1)\,, which also disagrees violently with observations.

Another class of theories is the quasilinear theories such as Whitehead's theory of gravitation. For these \xi=\beta\,. The relative magnitudes of the harmonics of the Earth's tides depend on \xi and \alpha_2, and measurements show that quasilinear theories disagree with observations of Earth's tides.

Another class of metric theories is the bimetric theory. For all of these \alpha_2\, is non-zero. From the precession of the solar spin we know that \alpha_2 < 4\times 10^{-7}\,, and that effectively rules out bimetric theories.

Another class of metric theories is the scalar tensor theories, such as Brans–Dicke theory. For all of these, \gamma=\textstyle\frac{1+\omega}{2+\omega}\,. The limit of \gamma-1<2.3\times10^{-5}\, means that \omega\, would have to be very large, so these theories are looking less and less likely as experimental accuracy improves.

The final main class of metric theories is the vector-tensor theories. For all of these the gravitational "constant" varies with time and \alpha_2\, is non-zero. Lunar laser ranging experiments tightly constrain the variation of the gravitational "constant" with time and \alpha_2 < 4\times 10^{-7}\,, so these theories are also looking unlikely.

There are some metric theories of gravity that do not fit into the above categories, but they have similar problems.

Accuracy from experimental tests

Bounds on the PPN parameters Will (2006)

Parameter Bound Effects Experiment
\gamma-1 2.3 x 10^{-5} Time delay, Light deflection Cassini tracking
\beta-1 3 x 10^{-3} Perihelion shift Perihelion shift
\beta-1 2.3 x 10^{-4} Nordtvedt effect with assumption \eta_N=4\beta-\gamma-3 Nordtvedt effect
\xi 0.001 Earth tides Gravimeter data
\alpha_1 10^{-4} Orbit polarization Lunar laser ranging
\alpha_2 4 x 10^{-7} Spin precession Sun axis' alignment with ecliptic
\alpha_3 4 x 10^{-20} Self-acceleration Pulsar spin-down statistics
\eta_N 9 x 10^{-4} Nordtvedt effect Lunar Laser Ranging
\zeta_1 0.02 - Combined PPN bounds
\zeta_2 4 x 10^{-5} Binary pulsar acceleration PSR 1913+16
\zeta_3 10^{-8} Newton's 3rd law Lunar acceleration
\zeta_4 0.006 - Kreuzer experiment

† Will, C.M., Is momentum conserved? A test in the binary system PSR 1913 + 16, Astrophysical Journal, Part 2 - Letters (ISSN 0004-637X), vol. 393, no. 2, July 10, 1992, p. L59-L61.

‡ Based on 6\zeta_4=3\alpha_3+2\zeta_1-3\zeta_3 from Will (1976, 2006). It is theoretically possible for an alternative model of gravity to bypass this bound, in which case the bound is |\zeta_4|< 0.4 from Ni (1972).


  • Eddington, A. S. (1922) The Mathematical Theory of Relativity, Cambridge University Press.
  • Misner, C. W., Thorne, K. S. & Wheeler, J. A. (1973) Gravitation, W. H. Freeman and Co.
  • Nordtvedt Jr, K. (1968) Equivalence principle for massive bodies II: Theory, Phys. Rev. 169, 1017-1025.
  • Nordtvedt Jr, K. (1969) Equivalence principle for massive bodies including rotational energy and radiation pressure, Phys. Rev. 180, 1293-1298.
  • Will, C. M. (1971) Theoretical frameworks for testing relativistic gravity II: Parameterized post-Newtonian hydrodynamics and the Nordtvedt effect, Astrophys. J. 163, 611-628.
  • Will, C. M. (1976) Active mass in relativistic gravity: Theoretical interpretation of the Kreuzer experiment, Astrophys. J., 204, 224-234.
  • Will, C. M. (1981, 1993) Theory and Experiment in Gravitational Physics, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43973-6.
  • Will, C. M., (2006) The Confrontation between General Relativity and Experiment,
  • Will, C. M., and Nordtvedt Jr., K (1972) Conservation laws and preferred frames in relativistic gravity I, The Astrophysical Journal 177, 757.

See also

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.