More Classification of p-Divisible Groups

Today we’ll look a little more closely at {A[p^\infty]} for abelian varieties and finish up a different sort of classification that I’ve found more useful than the one presented earlier as triples {(M,F,V)}. For safety we’ll assume {k} is algebraically closed of characteristic {p>0} for the remainder of this post.

First, let’s note that we can explicitly describe all {p}-divisible groups over {k} up to isomorphism (of any dimension!) up to height {2} now. This is basically because height puts a pretty tight constraint on dimension: {ht(G)=\dim(G)+\dim(G^D)}. If we want to make this convention, we’ll say {ht(G)=0} if and only if {G=0}, but I’m not sure it is useful anywhere.

For {ht(G)=1} we have two cases: If {\dim(G)=0}, then it’s dual must be the unique connected {p}-divisible group of height {1}, namely {\mu_{p^\infty}} and hence {G=\mathbb{Q}_p/\mathbb{Z}_p}. The other case we just said was {\mu_{p^\infty}}.

For {ht(G)=2} we finally get something a little more interesting, but not too much more. From the height {1} case we know that we can make three such examples: {(\mu_{p^\infty})^{\oplus 2}}, {\mu_{p^\infty}\oplus \mathbb{Q}_p/\mathbb{Z}_p}, and {(\mathbb{Q}_p/\mathbb{Z}_p)^{\oplus 2}}. These are dimensions {2}, {1}, and {0} respectively. The first and last are dual to each other and the middle one is self-dual. Last time we said there was at least one more: {E[p^\infty]} for a supersingular elliptic curve. This was self-dual as well and the unique one-dimensional connected height {2} {p}-divisible group. Now just playing around with the connected-étale decomposition, duals, and numerical constraints we get that this is the full list!

If we could get a bit better feel for the weird supersingular {E[p^\infty]} case, then we would have a really good understanding of all {p}-divisible groups up through height {2} (at least over algebraically closed fields).

There is an invariant called the {a}-number for abelian varieties defined by {a(A)=\dim Hom(\alpha_p, A[p])}. This essentially counts the number of copies of {\alpha_p} sitting inside the truncated {p}-divisible group. Let’s consider the elliptic curve case again. If {E/k} is ordinary, then we know {E[p]} explicitly and hence can argue that {a(E)=0}. For the supersingular case we have that {E[p]} is actually a non-split semi-direct product of {\alpha_p} by itself and we get that {a(E)=1}. This shows that the {a}-number is an invariant that is equivalent to knowing ordinary/supersingular.

This is a phenomenon that generalizes. For an abelian variety {A/k} we get that {A} is ordinary if and only if {a(A)=0} in which case the {p}-divisible group is a bunch of copies of {E[p^\infty]} for an ordinary elliptic curve, i.e. {A[p^\infty]\simeq E[p^\infty]^g}. On the other hand, {A} is supersingular if and only if {A[p^\infty]\simeq E[p^\infty]^g} for {E/k} supersingular (these two facts are pretty easy if you use the {p}-rank as the definition of ordinary and supersingular because it tells you the étale part and you mess around with duals and numerics again).

Now that we’ve beaten that dead horse beyond recognition, I’ll point out one more type of classification which is the one that comes up most often for me. In general, there is not redundant information in the triple {(M, F, V)}, but for special classes of {p}-divisible groups (for example the ones I always work with explained here) all you need to remember is the {(M, F)} to recover {G} up to isomorphism.

A pair {(M,F)} of a free, finite rank {W}-module equipped with a {\phi}-linear endomorphism {F} is sometimes called a Cartier module or {F}-crystal. Every Dieudonné module of a {p}-divisible group is an example of one of these. We could also consider {H=M\otimes_W K} where {K=Frac(W)} to get a finite dimensional vector space in characteristic {0} with a {\phi}-linear endomorphism preserving the {W}-lattice {M\subset H}.

Passing to this vector space we would expect to lose some information and this is usually called the associated {F}-isocrystal. But doing this gives us a beautiful classification theorem which was originally proved by Diedonné and Manin. We have that {H} is naturally an {A}-module where {A=K[T]} is the noncommutative polynomial ring {T\cdot a=\phi(a)\cdot T}. The classification is to break up {H\simeq \oplus H_\alpha} into a slope decomposition.

These {\alpha} are just rational numbers corresponding to the slopes of the {F} operator. The eigenvalues {\lambda_1, \ldots, \lambda_n} of {F} are not necessarily well-defined, but if we pick the normalized valuation {ord(p)=1}, then the valuations of the eigenvalues are well-defined. Knowing the slopes and multiplicities completely determines {H} up to isomorphism, so we can completely capture the information of {H} in a simple Newton polygon. Note that when {H} is the {F}-isocrystal of some Dieudonné module, then the relation {FV=VF=p} forces all slopes to be between 0 and 1.

Unfortunately, knowing {H} up to isomorphism only determines {M} up to equivalence. This equivalence is easily seen to be the same as an injective map {M\rightarrow M'} whose cokernel is a torsion {W}-module (that way it becomes an isomorphism when tensoring with {K}). But then by the anti-equivalence of categories two {p}-divisible groups (in the special subcategory that allows us to drop the {V}) {G} and {G'} have equivalent Dieudonné modules if and only if there is a surjective map {G' \rightarrow G} whose kernel is finite, i.e. {G} and {G'} are isogenous as {p}-divisible groups.

Despite the annoying subtlety in fully determining {G} up to isomorphism, this is still really good. It says that just knowing the valuation of some eigenvalues of an operator on a finite dimensional characteristic {0} vector space allows us to recover {G} up to isogeny.


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