2021 Student Research Conference:
34th Annual Student Research Conference

The Three-Body Problem: Why Can't We Solve It?

Patrick L. Quirk
Dr. Ian Lindevald, Faculty Mentor

    The three-body problem is the problem of finding the trajectories of three massive bodies (such as the earth, moon, and sun) moving under the sole influence of their mutual gravitational attraction. The traditional analysis of such systems leads to 18 coupled equations (one per component of position and momentum for each body). They are unsolvable in closed form. We explain how the problem can be reduced to 6 equations by using conserved quantities and two eliminations of variables. We will discuss how Bruns and Poincaré showed that no other similar reductions are possible[1]. Thus, the general problem has no closed-form exact solution in terms of elementary functions and their integrals. We will also briefly review other strategies to solve this problem.

[1]: G. S. Krishnaswami and H. Senapati, Resonance 24, 87-114 (2019).

Keywords: Physics, Classical Mechanics, Ordinary Differential Equations, Three-Body Problem, Hamiltonian Mechanics, Mathematics, Poincaré, Solvability


Presentation Type: Face-to-Face Oral Presentation

Session: 301-4
Location: SUB GEO
Time: 2:15

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