The Unapologetic Mathematician

Mathematics for the interested outsider

The Tangent Bundle

So far we’ve talked about tangent spaces one at a time. For each p\in M we get a tangent space \mathcal{T}_pM at p. But things get really interesting when we start to sew them all together.

So, let’s take the (disjoint) union of all the tangent spaces \mathcal{T}_pM at once. It’s important here that we never identify any of these with each other; a tangent vector at p is never the same as another tangent vector at q. So far this is just a bunch of n-dimensional vector spaces parameterized by the n-dimensional manifold M, but I say that we can actually give this whole set the structure of a 2n-dimensional smooth manifold!

Indeed, all we need is to give a collection of patches covering the whole space, and we can do this starting from any atlas on M. Given an open coordinate patch (U,x) in M, we will make a coordinate patch that covers all of the \mathcal{T}_pM with p\in U. Given a v\in\mathcal{T}_pM we need to come up with a point \bar{x}(v)\in\mathbb{R}^{2n}. We write


As v varies within \mathcal{T}_pM, the first n components of the image — x(p) — stay fixed, and the rest of them give a linear isomorphism from \mathcal{T}_pM to \mathbb{R}^n.

On the other hand, how do things change as we vary the base point p? This, it turns out, is where the interesting stuff is happening. Normally we wouldn’t be able to tell anything about how \mathcal{T}_pM and \mathcal{T}_qM are related for p\neq q, but within a single coordinate patch we can use the coordinate map x to define coordinate vectors at every single point p\in U, and this lets us compare vectors at different points by comparing their components with respect to these coordinate vector bases.

The catch is, this only works for points in the same coordinate patch, and different coordinate patches give us different ways of comparing tangent vectors at nearby points. So we can’t really say much about them, but it’s enough to define a coordinate patch.

So we have to check about where patches overlap. If we have (U,x) and (V,y) as two patches on M then we already know that y\circ x^{-1} is a smooth transition function. This handles the smoothness of the first n components of the transition function \bar{y}\circ\bar{x}^{-1}. For the other components, we know that the transition function is a linear isomorphism, which is clearly smooth.

We call this manifold the “tangent bundle” of M and write \mathcal{T}M. It comes equipped with a map \pi:\mathcal{T}M\to M, which I say is smooth. Indeed, we just need to check this on a single pair of coordinate patches. We can pick any patch (U,x) on M and the corresponding patch on \mathcal{T}M. Then given (a,b)\in x(U)\times\mathbb{R}^n we get a vector \bar{x}^{-1}(a,b)=v\in\mathcal{T}_{x^{-1}(a)}M by writing

\displaystyle v=\sum\limits_{i=1}^nb^i\left(\frac{\partial}{\partial x^i}(x^{-1}(a))\right)

Our projection then sends v to its base-point x^{-1}(a), which x sends to a. That is, if we write our projection \pi out in terms of coordinates \bar{x} on \mathcal{T}M and x on M, it’s just the projection x(U)\times\mathbb{R}^n\to x(U), which is obviously smooth.

April 4, 2011 - Posted by | Differential Topology, Topology


  1. Man, you should try writing a book sometime. I am really enjoying your clear exposition of manifold theory and think you have a great writing style!

    Comment by Jake | April 5, 2011 | Reply

  2. […] It turns out that the tangent bundle construction is actually a functor. Given a smooth map between smooth manifolds, we will get a […]

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  3. […] of the Derivative We’ve said that the tangent bundle construction is a functor with the derivative as the action on morphisms. But we haven’t […]

    Pingback by Functoriality of the Derivative « The Unapologetic Mathematician | April 7, 2011 | Reply

  4. […] look at the tangent bundle to a Euclidean space. That is, we let be a finite-dimensional real vector space with its standard […]

    Pingback by The Tangent Bundle of a Euclidean Space « The Unapologetic Mathematician | April 11, 2011 | Reply

  5. […] at least to some extent — at points within a local coordinate patch, and let us define the tangent bundle as a -dimensional […]

    Pingback by Cotangent Vectors, Differentials, and the Cotangent Bundle « The Unapologetic Mathematician | April 13, 2011 | Reply

  6. […] example is the projection from the tangent bundle down to its base manifold . Indeed, given any tangent vector at we can pick a coordinate patch […]

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  7. […] get back to the differential geometry and topology. Let’s say that we have a manifold with tangent bundle , which of course comes with a projection map . If is an open submanifold, we can restrict the […]

    Pingback by Vector Fields « The Unapologetic Mathematician | May 23, 2011 | Reply

  8. […] But we can check this using the coordinates on and the coordinate patch induced by on the tangent bundle. With this choice of source and target coordinates the map is just the inclusion of into the […]

    Pingback by Coordinate Vector Fields « The Unapologetic Mathematician | May 24, 2011 | Reply

  9. […] a chart with , then is always smooth. Indeed, remember that gives us a coordinate patch on the tangent bundle. Since is smooth and is smooth, the […]

    Pingback by Identifying Vector Fields « The Unapologetic Mathematician | May 25, 2011 | Reply

  10. […] have a number of other constructions similar to the tangent bundle that will come in handy. These are all sort of analogues of certain constructions we already know […]

    Pingback by Tensor Bundles « The Unapologetic Mathematician | July 6, 2011 | Reply

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