Brane polarization is no cure for tachyons
Brane polarization is no cure for tachyons
0 Institut de Physique Th ́eorique, Universit ́e Paris Saclay, CEA , CNRS
Anti-M2 and anti-D3 branes placed in regions with charges dissolved in fluxes have a tachyon in their near-horizon region, which causes these branes to repel each other. If the branes are on the Coulomb branch this tachyon gives rise to a runaway behavior, but when the branes are polarized into five-branes this tachyon only appears to lower the energy of the polarized branes, without affecting its stability. We analyze brane polarization in the presence of a brane-brane-repelling tachyon and show that when the branes are polarized along the direction of the tachyon the polarized shell is unstable. This implies that tachyons cannot be cured by brane polarization and indicates that, at least in a certain regime of parameters, anti-D3 branes polarized into NS5 branes at the bottom of the KlebanovStrassler solution have an instability.
AdS-CFT Correspondence; dS vacua in string theory; D-branes
1 Introduction 2 3 4
The P-wave instability
The D-wave instability
The polarization potential of a non-spherical shell
A Explicit expressions for the coefficients of the tachyonic potentials
The physics of antibranes placed in backgrounds that contain charges dissolved in the
fluxes has been a constant source of surprises. The supergravity solutions that describe
these antibranes have certain singularities, that are visible both when the fields sourced by
the branes are treated as a perturbation [1–6] and when the full backreaction of these fields
is taken into account [7–10]. The fields diverging at the singularity have the right form
and gs dependence to cause the antibranes to polarize into higher-dimensional branes, but
in all regimes of parameters where the exact coefficients of these fields could be computed
they are such that polarization either does not happen [11, 12], or if it happens it is
accompanied by a brane-brane-repelling tachyon, which causes the antibranes to run away
from each other [13, 14].1
The generic potential for n anti-D3 branes to polarize into N5 five-branes wrapping a
two-sphere of radius R in a three-form field strength proportional to C is of the form :
The first term represents the excess mass brought about by the presence of the five-branes,
the second term is the polarization force exerted by the six-form potential (Hodge dual to
three-form field strength) on the five-branes, and the last term is the potential felt by the n
anti-D3 branes. When a tachyon is present (m2 > 0) the polarization potential has always
a minimum, regardless of the sign a C. This implies that anti-D3 branes can polarize into
five-branes even when the cubic term in the polarization potential (and hence the six-form
1When the worldvolume of the branes is not flat but AdS, this singularity can be resolved by
polarization [15, 16], but this can only happen when the scale of the AdS space is the same as the scale of the
polarizing fields . Hence, this phenomenon is irrelevant for resolving the singularities of the antibranes
that are added to AdS flux compactifications to obtain de Sitter spaces with small cosmological constant .
potential that induces the branes to polarize) is absent or has the wrong sign . Hence,
the presence of a brane-brane-repelling tachyon appears to favor brane polarization. One
may even go so far as to argue that the presence of this tachyon should be taken as an
indication that antibrane singularities will always be resolved by brane polarization, and
that the tachyon simply signals the intention of the unstable unpolarized anti-D3 branes
to move to a stable vacuum where the antibranes are polarized into five-branes.
It is the purpose of this paper to investigate the stability of the vacua with polarized
antibranes in the presence of a brane-brane-repelling tachyon.
We will examine
polarized branes with a tachyonic term in the polarization potential and examine two possible
instability modes, both of which break the spherical symmetry of the polarization shell:
the P-mode, which corresponds to shifting the center of the polarization shell, and the
D-mode, which corresponds to deforming the spherical polarization shell into a ellipsoidal
(cucumber) shape. We will find that the P-mode deformation is always tachyonic, while
the D-mode is only tachyonic when the three-form field strength that polarizes the branes
is smaller than a certain value (C < 23 m). Hence, the presence of a brane-brane-repelling
tachyon renders unstable the configurations where these branes are polarized into
The paper organized as follows. In section 2 we write down the potential describing the
polarization of D3 branes into a five-brane wrapping a (shifted and squashed) non-spherical
polarization shell. The next two sections are devoted to the stability analysis of this shell:
in section 3 we study the stability under a P-wave deformation, corresponding to a shift of
the center of the sphere, and find that this deformation is tachyonic whenever a tachyon
is present in the polarization plane, regardless of the magnitude of the charges or of the
polarizing fields. In section 4 we study the stability under a D-wave (ellipsoidal)
deformation and show that this deformation is also tachyonic whenever the tachyon is stronger
than a certain value. In the last section we discuss possible extensions and generalizations
of our results and their implications for the stability of anti-D3 branes polarized into NS5
branes  at the bottom of the Klebanov-Strassler solution . Some lengthy formulae
are relegated to the appendix.
The polarization potential of a non-spherical shell
The goal of this section is to derive the polarization potential for D3 branes polarized into
five-branes that wrap a two-sphere perturbed with P- and D-mode deformations inside
3 along which the inter-D3 potential is tachyonic.2 The five-brane worldvolume is
spanned by the four Minkowski coordinates of the D3 branes and two compact directions
inside the R3 parameterized as:
2The position of the 5-brane shell along the remaining R3, orthogonal to the polarization plane, plays
no role in our discussion. The branes might be either localised or smeared in these directions.
When the shift parameter a is non-zero and the radii are equal this embedding describes a
and R1 6= R2. The pull-back of the R
3 metric on the deformed two-sphere wrapped by the
The D3 brane charge of the five-brane gives rise to a nontrivial 2-form flux on its
As explained in , the quartic term in the polarization potential is equal to the
mass difference between n unpolarized D3 branes and n D3 branes inside a five-brane
shell. When the total mass of the D3 branes is bigger than the five-brane mass this is
where the factor of 4 in the denominator was chosen such that the integral of this term
matches the first term in (1.1).
The cubic term in the polarization potential (1.1) comes from the six-form potential
that forces the five-brane shells to expand. In the near-brane region the field strength
corresponding to this potential is proportional to the volume form of the R3 plane in which
the polarization happens:
dC6 ∼ dx1 ∧ dx2 ∧ dx3 ∧ VolMink ,
Integrating the pullback of C6 over the worldvolume of the five-brane gives the potential
where we introduced:
will change, and has to be determined anew. To ensure that the total D3 brane charge is the
where C is a constant proportional to the strength of the polarizing fields, the factor of 3/2
was chosen for later convenience and the minus sign reflects the fact that the orientation of
the five-brane is such that the force exerted by the six-form potential favors polarization.
The quadratic term in the polarization potential is given by the D3 brane density
multiplied by the value of the tachyonic potential at their location:
where the minus sign reflects the presence of a brane-brane-repelling tachyon and the
expression x21 + x22 + x23 has to be pulled back on the worldvolume using the
parameterization (2.1). When the number of five-branes is larger than one, the full potential can be
obtained from the potential above by simply replacing n by n/N5 and multiplying by an
overall factor of N5.
Let us close this section by stressing that the goal of the paper is to study the stability
of the polarized 5-brane shells under small perturbations. Thus, for the P-mode calculation
in the next section we will be interested exclusively in the leading order behavior of the
shift parameter a. Similarly, for the D-mode stability we will focus only on small values of
The P-wave instability
In this section we are interested in the polarization potential into a five-brane wrapping a
we obtain the potential density:
V (f (ξ), ξ, R, a, λ) = −m2nf (ξ) R2 + 2Raξ + a2
To find the final potential, V (R, a) = R 1
together with the constraint (2.6). Unfortunately, for a non-zero a the solution of (3.2) for
the charge distribution function,
λn − m2n2 R2 + 2Raξ + a2 −1/2 ,
small-a behavior of the potential (see the last paragraph of the previous section), and so
it will suffice to solve for the Lagrange multiplier in a series expansion:
= 0 ,
where the coefficients depend on m, n and R. Expanding (3.3) in a and integrating term
and for the purpose of this analysis we will not need higher-order coefficients. Substituting
at the final expression for V (R, a):
V (R, a) =
−m2nR2 − CR3 +
− m2n 1 +
The coefficient of the a2 term is strictly negative, but this does not yet imply P-wave
Rpol which minimizes the full potential including the a2 term:
C 243C4 + 1296C2m2 + 1536m4
9C2 + 32m2i−1
Von-shell(n, C, m) = n3C4v0(ω) + nC2v2(ω) · a2 + O a
one can see from equation (A.2) and from figure 1 that the term quadratic in a is always
negative, regardless of the values of m, C and n.
Hence, a small shift of the center of the polarized sphere lowers its potential energy
and makes this configuration P-wave unstable.
The D-wave instability
When a = 0, equation (2.1) implies that x
ing (2.7), (2.8), (2.10) and (2.11) we obtain:
In this section we will study a D-wave (ellipsoidal) deformation of the spherical shell.
V (f (ξ), ξ, R1, R2, λ) = −m2nf (ξ) R12(1 − ξ2) + R2ξ
R12ξ2 + R22(1 − ξ2) + λ · f (ξ) − 2
As in the previous section, we will consider an infinitesimal deviation from a spherical shell:
sphere (given by the leading-order (a = 0) term in (3.7)).
which upon substituting back to the potential gives us the following quadratic term:
stable with respect to D-wave fluctuations if and only if both eigenvalues of the
It is straightforward to check that when the tachyon is larger5 than this critical value, m >
32 C, one of the eigenvalues is always negative, and hence the configuration is unstable. In
0) and the polarization only happens because of the tachyon , give rise to configurations
that are D-wave unstable. However, when the polarizing field is positive and much stronger
than the tachyon, the D-wave instability is absent.
We have found that brane polarization in the presence of brane-brane-repelling tachyons
results in unstable configurations. Our analysis focused of the stability of polarized branes
4See the closing comment in section 2.
5Recall that in our conventions m and n are positive.
that lay inside an R3 plane along which there is a brane-brane-repelling tachyon, and the
perturbations that we explore do not take the polarization shell outside of this plane.
However, in general a D3 brane solution perturbed with transverse three-form fields can have
many polarized vacua, corresponding to polarization into arbitrary (p, q) five-branes
wrapping two-spheres laying in various R3 subspaces of the R6 transverse to the D3 branes .
Hence, in order to show that tachyons are incompatible with metastable vacua with
polarized branes one must in principle analyze the stability of all such polarization shells,
and consider more general perturbations than the ones we have considered in this paper.
While we leave the thorough analysis of the stability of these configurations to a subsequent
paper , we outline below a few aspects of this analysis that reveal that the instability
we found may be fatal for all brane polarization channels, regardless on whether they are
along a plane where there is a brane-brane-repelling tachyon.
In order to do this, it is important to recall that in the supersymmetric
Polchinskifive-branes only gave rise to a supersymmetric vacuum when the polarization two-sphere
was inside a specific R3, where the cubic term in the polarization potential is maximal
(since the cubic term comes from the polarization force exerted on the shell, we can call
this the “maximum-force” R3). However, nothing stops one from considering D3 branes
polarized into (p, q) five-branes wrapping a two-sphere inside a different R
as a D5 shell in an oblique plane, or an oblique shell in the D5 or NS5 planes. These
polarized shells will have more energy than the supersymmetric vacua, and are unstable
under deformations that keep the polarized shell inside the same R3 plane. However, if we
tilt these shells towards the “maximum-force” R3, their energy is lowered, and hence these
shells are not even sitting on extrema of the polarization potential.
When supersymmetry is broken there is no longer a natural way to associate a given
type of (p, q) five-brane to a given polarization R3 subspace of R6. Since both the cubic
and the quadratic terms depend on the orientation of the polarization plane, one can also
identify, besides the “maximum-force” R3, a “maximum-tachyon” R3, along which the
quadratic term in the potential is the largest.6 In general these two three-planes will not
be the same, and the minimum-energy round shell will lay inside an R
3 plane between
them. If there is a brane-brane-repelling tachyon in this plane our result implies that this
round shell will be unstable. However, if this plane has a positive quadratic term in the
polarization potential than one will have to perform a more thorough stability analysis .
We can now combine this intuition with the results of  in order to ascertain whether
anti-D3 branes at the bottom of the Klebanov-Strassler (KS) solution 7 can still give
rise to metastable vacua when polarized into NS5 branes inside the S3 at the bottom of the
KS solution . As shown in , the “maximum-force” orientation of these NS5 brane
shells is inside the S3, but the “maximum-tachyon” orientation is in a different direction.
Furthermore, the value of the brane-brane-repelling tachyon inside the “maximum-force”
plane is exactly zero . It is not hard to see that this NS5 brane will lower its energy by
6See for example equation (2.11) in  or equation (3.1) in .
7Which have a brane-brane-repelling tachyon in the regime of parameters where their backreaction is
important , and the number of anti-D3 branes is larger than the square of the KS three-form flux.
tilting: as one inclines the brane away from the “maximal-force” plane, the coefficient of the
cubic term decreases like the square of the tilting angle (given by the phase of z in equation
(2.11) in  or equation (3.1) in ); however, since this brane does not lay inside the
maximum-tachyon plane, the coefficient of the quadratic term will decrease linearly with
this tilting angle. Since the two terms are of the same magnitude, the overall potential
will decrease as the NS5 brane tilts away from the “maximum-force” and settles along
another plane that sits between the “maximum-force” and the “maximum-tachyon” planes.
Since the tachyon is exactly zero in the “maximum-force” plane , and maximal in the
“maximum-tachyon” plane, it will have a finite nonzero value in this plane. One can then
use the result of our analysis to show that this brane will be unstable. Hence, in the regime
of parameters where the antibranes backreact our analysis implies that anti-D3 branes
polarized into NS5 branes inside the S3 at the bottom of the KS solutions are unstable.
Thus, even if our investigation does not address in full all the possible decay channels
of all possible polarization channels of tachyonic branes, it shows that the most commonly
used ones - the anti-D3 branes polarized into NS5 branes at the bottom of the KS
solution - are unstable. It is clearly a very important open question to analyze in detail all
polarization channels of these antibranes and to find whether there is any metastable one,
or whether they are all unstable. It is also important to understand in general whether
brane polarization can cure any brane-brane repelling tachyon, or if even the tiniest such
tachyon is enough to destabilize all polarized branes. It is also interesting to analyze the
polarization of anti-M2 branes in the presence of such tachyons. In  it was found that
anti-M2 branes placed in bubbling Lin-Lunin-Maldacena (LLM) geometries  can give
rise to metastable vacua in which these anti-M2 branes are polarized into M5 branes. The
polarization was induced only by a tachyonic term, and if our analysis extends to that
situation it would imply that these metastable anti-M2 LLM vacua are in fact unstable.
Another interesting direction is to explore in general the fate of the P-wave instability
of multiple D3 branes polarized into a single D5 brane inside a tachyonic AdS5 ×S5 solution
sourced by these D3 branes. Our calculation gives the polarization potential of a probe in
a general tachyonic background and, as explained in , this probe potential can be used
to find the potential describing the polarization of all the D3 branes sourcing the solution.
When the D3 branes polarize into multiple five-brane shells, the P-wave tachyonic mode
we find above corresponds to shifting the centers of these five-brane shells away from each
other. However, if one assumes that our calculation of the polarization potential extends
to the configuration in which all the D3 branes are polarized into a single five-brane, it is
unclear what this P-wave tachyonic mode corresponds to.8
Our analysis explores the effects of the brane-brane-repelling tachyon on the stability
of brane polarization shells using the Born-Infeld action of these shells. However, brane
polarization can also be described using the degrees of freedom of the branes that
polarize [18, 25], and this description is valid in the regime of parameters where the backreaction
8This discussion does not apply to backreacted antibranes, for which we have only shown that a
branebrane-repelling tachyon is present in a regime of parameters in which the dipole charge of the polarization
shell is greater than one.
of these branes is not important9 (gsN
1). In the vacua where the branes are polarized,
the N × N scalar fields living on the branes become non-commutative. It is not hard to
2 − Φ23 + Φ24 + Φ25 + Φ26) one can easily find vacua
where these fields become non-commutative
and these “Higgs” vacua describe the polarization of the D3 branes into D5 branes. Hence,
from the point of view of the theory on the branes, a tachyon that causes a runaway
behavior on the Coulomb branch (when the scalars commute) can still give rise to
Higgsbranch vacua. The question is then whether these Higgs-branch vacua are metastable, or
are tachyonic, and also what is the matrix equivalent of the P- and D-wave instabilities
we have found. More generally, to prove that the Higgs-branch vacua are metastable one
would have to show that the O(N 2) possible perturbations of this vacuum give rise to an
× N 2) mass matrix that has only positive eigenvalues. At first glance this appears
rather unlikely, but if such a metastable vacuum exists it would have quite extraordinary
implications for our understanding of vacua in tachyonic non-Abelian gauge theories.
We would like to thank Johan Bl˚ab¨ack, Ben Freivogel, Mariana Gran˜a, Praxitelis Ntokos,
Silviu Pufu and David Turton for interesting discussions. This work was supported in part
by the ERC Starting Grant 240210 String-QCD-BH, by National Science Foundation Grant
No. PHYS-1066293 (via the hospitality of the Aspen Center for Physics) by the John
Templeton Foundation Grant 48222 and by a grant from the Foundational Questions Institute
(FQXi) Fund, a donor advised fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation on the
basis of proposal FQXi-RFP3-1321 (this grant was administered by Theiss Research).
Explicit expressions for the coefficients of the tachyonic potentials
in the P-wave and D-wave brane polarization potentials (3.8) and (4.3):
81+360ω2 +128ω4 + 81+432ω2 +448ω4 √
3 + √
3 + √
9Although the existence of a brane-brane-repelling tachyon was only established when gsN
the technology now exists  for studying whether non-backreacting antibranes also have tachyons; a
simple exploration of the SO(6) transformations of the various terms that can appear in the
brane-effectiveaction  indicates that a brane-brane-repelling tachyon might as well be present in this regime.
3 + √
3 + √
3 + √
1053 + 3240ω2 − 256ω4 + 351 + 456ω2 √
324 + 4320ω2 + 8192ω4 + 108 + 1248ω2 √
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