Why both Dirac mass and Majorana mass terms are needed to explain the mass of a neutrino?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Er...either Dirac or Majorana physics can explain the physics observed so far. Experiment are underway that might sort out which one the the right one. I don't think that "both Dirac mass and Majorana mass terms are needed to explain the mass" is correct. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 4, 2012 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee..In all books, the final Lagrangian of neutrino field is written by adding both Dirac and Majorana mass term. $\endgroup$
    – Curious
    Commented Oct 4, 2012 at 17:34
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ That means both are allowed, not that both are needed. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Commented Oct 4, 2012 at 18:24
  • $\begingroup$ @ David Zaslavsky..actually my question is why the concept of both mass terms are introduced? Dirac is clear but Majorana is not clear.. $\endgroup$
    – Curious
    Commented Oct 4, 2012 at 18:28

1 Answer 1


Majorana and Dirac equations are usually considered as two different and mutually exclusive equations. However, both of them can be considered as a special cases of the more general equation.

Let's start with Dirac equation written in terms of the "left" ($\xi$) and "right" ($\dot\eta$) spinor components:

\begin{equation} \begin{array}{c} \left[\begin{array}{cc} {\partial{}}_0+{\partial{}}_3 & {\partial{}}_1-i{\partial{}}_2 \\ {\partial{}}_1+{i\partial{}}_2 & {\partial{}}_0-{\partial{}}_3 \end{array} \right]\left[\begin{array}{cc} {\eta{}}_{\dot{1}} \\ {\eta{}}_{\dot{2}} \end{array}\right] =-im\left[\begin{array}{cc} {\xi{}}^1 \\ {\xi{}}^2 \end{array}\right] \\ \\ \left[\begin{array}{cc} {\partial{}}_0-{\partial{}}_3 & -{\partial{}}_1+i{\partial{}}_2 \\ -{\partial{}}_1-{i\partial{}}_2 & {\partial{}}_0+{\partial{}}_3 \end{array}\right] \left[\begin{array}{cc} {\xi{}}^1 \\ {\xi{}}^2 \end{array}\right] =-im\left[\begin{array}{cc} {\eta{}}_{\dot{1}} \\ {\eta{}}_{\dot{2}} \end{array}\right] \end{array} \end{equation}

The Majorana equation has the same form as Dirac equation, but with additional condition (also known as Majorana condition, or Neutrality condition):

\begin{equation} \begin{array}{c} {\eta{}}_{\dot{1}} = \overline{{\xi{}}^2} \\ {\eta{}}_{\dot{2}} = - \ \overline{{\xi{}}^1} \end{array} \ \ \ \ \begin{array}{c} {\xi{}}^1 = - \ \overline{{\eta{}}_{\dot{2}}}\\ {\xi{}}^2 = \overline{{\eta{}}_{\dot{1}}} \end{array} \end{equation} If we will put this into Dirac equation, we will obtain:

\begin{equation} \begin{array}{c} \left[\begin{array}{cc} {\partial{}}_0+{\partial{}}_3 & {\partial{}}_1-i{\partial{}}_2 \\ {\partial{}}_1+{i\partial{}}_2 & {\partial{}}_0-{\partial{}}_3 \end{array}\right]\left[\begin{array}{ cc} \overline{{\xi{}}^2} \\ -\overline{{\xi{}}^1} \end{array}\right]=-im\left[\begin{array}{cc} {\xi{}}^1 \\ {\xi{}}^2 \end{array}\right] \\\\ \left[\begin{array}{cc} {\partial{}}_0-{\partial{}}_3 & -{\partial{}}_1+i{\partial{}}_2 \\ -{\partial{}}_1-{i\partial{}}_2 & {\partial{}}_0+{\partial{}}_3 \end{array}\right]\left[\begin{array}{cc} {\xi{}}^1 \\ {\xi{}}^2 \end{array}\right]=-im\left[\begin{array}{cc} \overline{{\xi{}}^2} \\ -\overline{{\xi{}}^1} \end{array}\right] \end{array} \end{equation}

Hence, Majorana condition makes both pairs of Dirac equation equivalent, leaving only one independent pair.

Let us now introduce the more general equation by replacing the mass terms in Dirac equation with the "mass matrix" $M$:

\begin{equation} M=\ \left[\begin{array}{cc} M_1^1 & M_2^1 \\ M_1^2 & M_2^2 \end{array}\right] \end{equation}

and it's complex conjugated matrix $\dot{M}$

\begin{equation} \dot{M}=\ \left[\begin{array}{ cc} \dot{M}_{\dot{1}}^{\dot{1}} & \dot{M}_{\dot{2}}^{\dot{1}} \\ \dot{M}_{\dot{1}}^{\dot{2}} & \dot{M}_{\dot{2}}^{\dot{2}} \end{array}\right] \end{equation} The modified equation will have the form:

\begin{equation} \begin{array}{c} \left[\begin{array}{cc} {\partial{}}_0+{\partial{}}_3 & {\partial{}}_1-i{\partial{}}_2 \\ {\partial{}}_1+{i\partial{}}_2 & {\partial{}}_0-{\partial{}}_3 \end{array} \right]\left[\begin{array}{cc} {\eta{}}_{\dot{1}} \\ {\eta{}}_{\dot{2}} \end{array}\right] =\left[\begin{array}{ cc} M_1^1 & M_2^1 \\ M_1^2 & M_2^2 \end{array}\right] \left[\begin{array}{cc} {\xi{}}^1 \\ {\xi{}}^2 \end{array}\right] \\ \\ \left[\begin{array}{cc} {\partial{}}_0-{\partial{}}_3 & -{\partial{}}_1+i{\partial{}}_2 \\ -{\partial{}}_1-{i\partial{}}_2 & {\partial{}}_0+{\partial{}}_3 \end{array}\right] \left[\begin{array}{cc} {\xi{}}^1 \\ {\xi{}}^2 \end{array}\right] =\left[\begin{array}{ cc} \dot{M}_{\dot{1}}^{\dot{1}} & \dot{M}_{\dot{2}}^{\dot{1}} \\ \dot{M}_{\dot{1}}^{\dot{2}} & \dot{M}_{\dot{2}}^{\dot{2}} \end{array}\right] \left[\begin{array}{cc} {\eta{}}_{\dot{1}} \\ {\eta{}}_{\dot{2}} \end{array}\right] \end{array} \end{equation}

If we require that "left" spinor $\xi$ is an eigenvector of matrix $M$, and "right" spinor $\dot \eta$ is an eigenvector of matrix $\dot M$, both corresponding to the same eigenvalue $(-im)$ \begin{equation} \begin{array}{c} M\xi = -im\xi \\ \\ \dot M \dot{\eta} = -im \dot{\eta} \end{array} \end{equation}

we again reproduce the structure of Dirac equation.

Now the "type" of equation (i.e. Dirac, Majorana or Weyl) will only depend on the special choice of matrix $M$.

For instance, if we choose $M$ as

\begin{equation} M=\left[ \begin{array}{cc} 0 & m \\ -m & 0 \end{array}\right] \end{equation}

\begin{equation} \dot{M}=\left[ \begin{array}{cc} 0 & m \\ -m & 0 \end{array}\right] \end{equation}

the eigenvectors corresponding to the eigenvalue $(-im)$ will be:

\begin{equation} \begin{array}{cc} \xi_D = \left[ \begin{array}{c} 1 \\ -i \end{array}\right]\phi(x) & \dot\eta_D = \left[ \begin{array}{c} 1 \\ -i \end{array}\right]\phi(x) & \end{array} \end{equation}

as it should be in the case of Dirac fermions (see, for instance, Peskin & Schroeder, Chapter 3.3).

Alternatively, we can choose $M$ as

\begin{equation} M=\left[ \begin{array}{cc} im & 0 \\ 0 & -im \end{array}\right] \end{equation}

\begin{equation} \dot{M}=\left[ \begin{array}{cc} -im & 0 \\ 0 & im \end{array}\right] \end{equation}

and the eigenvectors corresponding to the eigenvalue $(-im)$ will be:

\begin{equation} \begin{array}{cc} \xi_M = \left[ \begin{array}{c} 0 \\ 1 \end{array}\right]\phi(x) & \dot\eta_M = \left[ \begin{array}{c} 1 \\ 0 \end{array}\right]\phi(x) & \end{array} \end{equation}

It is easy to check that spinors $\xi_M$ and ${\dot\eta}_M$ automatically satisfy Majorana condition.

The most general form of the "mass matrix" $M$ is as follows:

\begin{equation} M=\ \left[\begin{array}{ cc} M_1^1 & M_2^1 \\ M_1^2 & {-M}_1^1 \end{array}\right]=\ F^k{\sigma{}}_k=\left[\begin{array}{ cc} F^3 & F^1-iF^2 \\ F^1+iF^2 & -F^3 \end{array}\right], \ \ \ \ k=1,2,3 \end{equation}

and it's eigenvalues are

\begin{equation} {\lambda{}}_{\pm{}}=\ \pm{}\sqrt{{\left(F^1\right)}^2+{\left(F^2\right)}^2+{\left(F^3\right)}^2} \end{equation}

The matrix $M$ belongs to the Lie algebra of the group $SL(2,C)$.

In order to preserve Lorentz invariance of the equation, the components of the mass matrix $F^k$ are required to transform like vector $E^k-iB^k$, where $E^k$ and $B^k$ are components of the electric and magnetic field strengths. In that case the eigenvalues of matrix $M$ are invariant w.r.t. Lorentz transformations, and the equation itself is Lorentz invariant.

Further generalization of the equation (by allowing $M$ to be not constant, but variable matrix) lead to the model that explains the origin of mass and charge in electrodynamics.

  • $\begingroup$ Hey, this is a very nice interesting and clear post. I was not aware how all these different equations are related before. +1 $\endgroup$
    – Dilaton
    Commented Jun 2, 2013 at 16:33

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