Feature Column

A new solution to the three body problem - and more

by Bill Casselman



2. The figure-eight

Here is the basic animation of the figure-eight configuration (using Carlos Simó's data):


The motion of the three bodies looks plausible as the track of a system of three bodies interacting through Newton's law of gravitation.But this could be an illusion.There is much numerical evidence that this is indeed a good picture of a real three-body system.But numerical evidence cannot distinguish between a real periodic motion of three bodies and one that very closely approximates this one for a while and then diverges away from it. The current mathematical interest of this topic is that Chenciner and Montgomery have recently proven that there is a choreographic system that has many features in common with the orbit suggested by computation and is in fact plausibly approximated by the techniques that produced the picture above.

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