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Mathematicians find 12,000 solutions for fiendish three-body problem

Until recently, working out how three objects can stably orbit each other was nearly impossible, but now mathematicians have found a record number of solutions

By Matthew Sparkes

8 September 2023

The motion of three objects is more complex than you might think

Mark Wragg/Getty Images

The question of how three objects can form a stable orbit around each other has troubled mathematicians for more than 300 years, but now researchers have found a record 12,000 orbital arrangements permitted by Isaac Newton’s laws of motion.

While mathematically describing the movement of two orbiting bodies and how each one’s gravity affects the other is relatively simple, the problem becomes vastly more complex once a third object is added. In 2017, researchers found 1223 new solutions…

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