Curvature and geodesic instabilities in a geometrical approach to the planar three-body problem

Research paper by Govind S. Krishnaswami, Himalaya Senapati

Indexed on: 27 Jun '16Published on: 27 Jun '16Published in: Mathematical Physics


The Maupertuis principle allows us to regard classical trajectories as reparametrized geodesics of the Jacobi-Maupertuis (JM) metric on configuration space. We study this geodesic reformulation of the planar three-body problem with both Newtonian and attractive inverse-square potentials. The associated JM metrics possess translation and rotation isometries in addition to scaling isometries for the inverse-square potential with zero energy E. The geodesic flow on the full configuration space $C^3$ (with collision points excluded) leads to corresponding flows on its Riemannian quotients: the center of mass configuration space $C^2$ and shape space $R^3$ (as well as $S^3$ and the shape sphere $S^2$ for the inverse-square potential when E = 0). The corresponding Riemannian submersions are described explicitly in `Hopf' coordinates which are particularly adapted to the isometries. For equal masses subject to inverse-square potentials, Montgomery shows that the zero-energy `pair of pants' JM metric on the shape sphere is geodesically complete and has negative gaussian curvature except at Lagrange points. We extend this to a proof of boundedness and strict negativity of scalar curvatures everywhere on $C^2, R^3$ & $S^3$ with collision points removed. Sectional curvatures are also found to be largely negative, indicating widespread geodesic instabilities. We obtain asymptotic metrics near collisions, show that scalar curvatures have finite limits and observe that the geodesic reformulation `regularizes' pairwise and triple collisions on $C^2$ and its quotients for arbitrary masses and allowed energies. For the Newtonian potential with equal masses and E=0, we find that the scalar curvature on $C^2$ is strictly negative though it could have either sign on $R^3$. However, unlike for the inverse-square potential, geodesics can encounter curvature singularities at collisions in finite geodesic time.