An electromagnetic four-potential is a "relativistic "vector function from which the "electromagnetic field can be derived. It combines both an "electric scalar potential and a "magnetic vector potential into a single "four-vector.^{[1]}
As measured in a given "frame of reference, and for a given "gauge, the first component of the electromagnetic four-potential is conventionally taken to be the electric scalar potential, and the other three components make up the magnetic vector potential. While both the scalar and vector potential depend upon the frame, the electromagnetic four-potential is "Lorentz covariant.
Like other potentials, many different electromagnetic four-potentials correspond to the same electromagnetic field, depending upon the choice of gauge.
This article uses "tensor index notation and the "Minkowski metric "sign convention (+ − − −). See also "covariance and contravariance of vectors and "raising and lowering indices for more details on notation. Formulae are given in "SI units and "Gaussian-cgs units.
The electromagnetic four-potential can be defined as:^{[2]}
SI units | Gaussian units |
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in which ϕ is the "electric potential, and A is the "magnetic potential (a "vector potential). The units of A^{α} are "V·"s·"m^{−1} in SI, and "Mx·"cm^{−1} in "Gaussian-cgs.
The electric and magnetic fields associated with these four-potentials are:^{[3]}
SI units | Gaussian units |
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In "special relativity, the electric and magnetic fields transform under "Lorentz transformations. This can be written in the form of a "tensor-the "electromagnetic tensor. This is written in terms of the electromagnetic four-potential and the "four-gradient as:
This essentially defines the four-potential in terms of physically observable quantities, as well as reducing to the above definition.
Often, the "Lorenz gauge condition in an "inertial frame of reference is employed to simplify "Maxwell's equations as:^{[4]}
SI units | Gaussian units |
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where J^{α} are the components of the "four-current, and
is the "d'Alembertian operator. In terms of the scalar and vector potentials, this last equation becomes:
SI units | Gaussian units |
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For a given charge and current distribution, ρ(r, t) and j(r, t), the solutions to these equations in SI units are:^{[5]}
where
is the "retarded time. This is sometimes also expressed with
where the square brackets are meant to indicate that the time should be evaluated at the retarded time. Of course, since the above equations are simply the solution to an "inhomogeneous "differential equation, any solution to the homogeneous equation can be added to these to satisfy the "boundary conditions. These homogeneous solutions in general represent waves propagating from sources outside the boundary.
When the integrals above are evaluated for typical cases, e.g. of an oscillating current (or charge), they are found to give both a magnetic field component varying according to r^{−2} (the induction field) and a component decreasing as r^{−1} (the radiation field).^{["clarification needed]}