Ok, we know what connections and covariant derivatives are. Now we can use them to get a map from the tangent space {T_p(M)} at one point to the manifold {M} which is a local isomorphism. This is interesting because it gives a way of saying, “start at point {p} and go five units in the direction of the tangent vector {v},” in a rigorous sense, and will be useful in proofs of things like the tubular neighborhood theorem—which I’ll get to shortly.

Anyway, first I need to talk about geodesics. A geodesic is a curve {c} such that the vector field along {c=(c_1, \dots, c_n)} created by the derivative {c'} is parallel. In local coordinates {x_1, \dots, x_n}, here’s what this means. Let the Christoffel symbols be {\Gamma^k_{ij}}. Then using the local formula for covariant differentiation along a curve, we get

\displaystyle D(c')(t) = \sum_j \left( c_j''(t) + \sum_{i,k} c_i'(t) c_k'(t) \Gamma^j_{ij}(c(t)) \right) \partial_j,

 so {c} being a geodesic is equivalent to the system of differential equations

\displaystyle c_j''(t) + \sum_{i,k} c_i'(t) c_k'(t) \Gamma^j_{ij}(c(t)) = 0, \ 1 \leq j \leq n. (more…)

A couple of days back I covered the definition of a (Koszul) connection. Now I will describe how this gives a way to differentiate vector fields along a curve.

Covariant Derivatives

First of all, here is a minor remark I should have made before. Given a connection {\nabla} and a vector field {Y}, the operation {X \rightarrow \nabla_X Y} is linear in {X} over smooth functions—thus it is a tensor (of type (1,1)), and the value at a point {p} can be defined if {X} is replaced by a tangent vector at {p}. In other words, we get a map {T(M)_p \times \Gamma(TM) \rightarrow T(M)_p}, where {\Gamma(TM)} denotes the space of vector fields. We’re going to need this below. (more…)