A team of mathematicians from around the world claims to have discovered 12,000 new solutions to the notoriously difficult three-body problem in physics and mathematics. The three-body problem involves the complex task of calculating stable orbits when three objects interact gravitationally with each other. While two-body systems can be described with just a few mathematical equations, adding a third body makes the mathematics significantly more challenging.

Isaac Newton formulated the laws of motion over 300 years ago, and since then mathematicians have been working to find solutions to the three-body problem. These new findings, published as a preprint on the arXiv database, represent a substantial addition to the existing knowledge, which consisted of only a few hundred scenarios.

The newly discovered orbits in the three-body problem are intricate and twisted, resembling pretzels and doodles. The three hypothetical objects involved start at rest and are then drawn towards each other in various spirals due to their gravitational attraction. After passing each other, they drift apart until gravity brings them back together, repeating this pattern indefinitely. The study’s author, Ivan Hristov, believes that with better technology, they could potentially find five times more solutions.

While three-body systems are common in the universe, with numerous stellar systems characterized by planets or stars orbiting each other, the stability of these newly discovered orbits is crucial for their practical use. Astronomers could use these solutions to better understand the cosmos, but if the orbits are not stable, they will not be applicable in real stellar systems.

Further research is required to determine their stability, as other forces could disrupt the orbital patterns. Juhan Frank, an astronomer at Louisiana State University, shows skepticism about the stability of these new orbits. He suggests that three-body systems tend to become a binary system with a third body escaping, usually the least massive of the three.

Nevertheless, from a theoretical perspective, these new solutions are a remarkable mathematical achievement. Whether stable or unstable, they contribute significantly to the understanding of the three-body problem and have great theoretical importance.

Sources:

– “The three-body problem baffles mathematicians with 12,000 new solutions” – New Scientist

– “The ‘Three-Body Problem’ Has Baffled Astronomers Since Newton Formulated It. AI Solved It in Less Than a Second.” – CBS News