Tangent space

In mathematics, the tangent space of a manifold generalizes to higher dimensions the notion of tangent planes to surfaces in three dimensions and tangent lines to curves in two dimensions. In the context of physics the tangent space to a manifold at a point can be viewed as the space of possible velocities for a particle moving on the manifold.

Once the tangent spaces of a manifold have been introduced, one can define vector fields, which are abstractions of the velocity field of particles moving in space. A vector field attaches to every point of the manifold a vector from the tangent space at that point, in a smooth manner. Such a vector field serves to define a generalized ordinary differential equation on a manifold: A solution to such a differential equation is a differentiable curve on the manifold whose derivative at any point is equal to the tangent vector attached to that point by the vector field.

All the tangent spaces of a manifold may be "glued together" to form a new differentiable manifold with twice the dimension of the original manifold, called the tangent bundle of the manifold.

There are various equivalent ways of defining the tangent spaces of a manifold. While the definition via the velocity of curves is intuitively the simplest, it is also the most cumbersome to work with. More elegant and abstract approaches are described below.

While this definition is the most abstract, it is also the one that is most easily transferable to other settings, for instance, to the varieties considered in algebraic geometry.

If the tangent space is defined via differentiable curves, then this map is defined by

If, instead, the tangent space is defined via derivations, then this map is defined by

This is a generalization of the inverse function theorem to maps between manifolds.