Journal Article

Mapping the three-body system – decay time and reversibility

H. J. Lehto, S. Kotiranta, M. J. Valtonen, P. Heinämäki, S. Mikkola and A. D. Chernin

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 388, issue 3, pages 965-970
Published in print August 2008 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online July 2008 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2966.2008.13450.x
Mapping the three-body system – decay time and reversibility

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In this paper we carry out a quantitative analysis of the three-body systems and map them as a function of decaying time and initial configuration, look at this problem as an example of a simple deterministic system and ask to what extent the orbits are really predictable. We have investigated the behaviour of about 200 000 general Newtonian three-body systems using the simplest initial conditions. Within our resolution these cover all the possible states where the objects are initially at rest and have no angular momentum. We have determined the decay time-scales of the triple systems and show that the distribution of this parameter is fractal in appearance. Some areas that appear stable on large scales exhibit very narrow strips of instability and the overall pattern, dominated by resonances, reminds us of a traditional Maasai warrior shield. Also an attempt is made to recover the original starting configuration of the three bodies by backward integration. We find there are instances where the evolution to the future and to the past lead to different orbits, in spite of time symmetric initial conditions. This implies that even in simple deterministic systems there exists an arrow of time.

Keywords: methods: N-body simulations; celestial mechanics

Journal Article.  4200 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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