Fitting Hyperbolic Pants to a Three-Body Problem

Research paper by Richard Montgomery

Indexed on: 01 May '04Published on: 01 May '04Published in: Mathematics - Dynamical Systems


Consider the three-body problem with an attractive $1/r^2$ potential. Modulo symmetries, the dynamics of the bounded zero-angular momentum solutions is equivalent to a geodesic flow on the thrice-punctured sphere, or ``pair of pants''. The sphere is the shape sphere. The punctures are the binary collisions. The metric generating the geodesics is the Jacobi-Maupertuis metric. The metric is complete, has infinite area, and its ends, the neighborhoods of the punctures, are asymptotically cylindrical. Our main result is that when the three masses are equal then the metric has negative curvature everywhere except at two points (the Lagrange points). A corollary of this negativity is the uniqueness of the $1/r^2$ figure eight, a complete symbolic dynamics for encoding the collision-free solutions, and the fact that collision solutions are dense within the bound solutions.