# hairy ball theorem

###### Theorem.

If $X$ is a vector field on $S^{2n}$, then $X$ has a zero. Alternatively, there are no continuous unit vector field on the sphere. Moreover, the tangent bundle of the sphere is nontrivial as a bundle, that is, it is not simply a product.

There are two proofs for this. The first proof is based on the fact that the antipodal map on $S^{2n}$ is not homotopic  to the identity map. The second proof gives the as a corollary of the Poincaré-Hopf index theorem.

Near a zero of a vector field, we can consider a small sphere around the zero, and restrict the vector field to that. By normalizing, we get a map from the sphere to itself. We define the index of the vector field at a zero to be the degree of that map.

###### Theorem (Poincaré-Hopf index theorem).

If $X$ is a vector field on a compact manifold $M$ with isolated zeroes, then $\chi(M)=\sum_{v\in Z(X)}\iota(v)$ where $Z(X)$ is the set of zeroes of $X$, and $\iota(v)$ is the index of $x$ at $v$, and $\chi(M)$ is the Euler characteristic  of $M$.

It is not difficult to show that $S^{2n+1}$ has non-vanishing vector fields for all $n$. A much harder result of Adams shows that the tangent bundle of $S^{m}$ is trivial if and only if $n=0,1,3,7$, corresponding to the unit spheres in the 4 real division algebras  .

###### Proof.

First, the low tech proof. Assume that $S^{2n}$ has a unit vector field $X$. Then the antipodal map is homotopic to the identity (http://planetmath.org/AntipodalMapOnSnIsHomotopicToTheIdentityIfAndOnlyIfNIsOdd). But this cannot be, since the degree of the antipodal map is $-1$ and the degree of the identity map is $+1$. We therefore reject the assumption that $X$ is a unit vector field.

###### Proof.

Now for the sledgehammer proof. Suppose $X$ is a nonvanishing vector field on $S^{2n}$. Then by the Poincaré-Hopf index theorem, the Euler characteristic of $S^{2n}$ is $\chi(X)=\sum_{v\in X^{-1}(0)}\iota(v)=0$. But the Euler characteristic of $S^{2k}$ is $2$. Hence $X$ must have a zero. ∎

Title hairy ball theorem HairyBallTheorem 2013-03-22 13:11:33 2013-03-22 13:11:33 rspuzio (6075) rspuzio (6075) 12 rspuzio (6075) Theorem msc 57R22 porcupine theorem PoincarÃÂ©-Hopf theorem Poincaré-Hopf index theorem