Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Cosmology
Physicists have spent centuries grappling with an inconvenient truth about nature: Faced with three stars on a collision course, astronomers could measure their locations and velocities in nanometers and milliseconds and it wouldn’t be enough to predict the stars’ fates.
But the cosmos frequently brings together trios of stars and black holes. If astrophysicists hope to fully understand regions where heavenly bodies mingle in throngs, they must confront the “three-body problem.”
While the result of a single three-body event is unknowable, researchers are discovering how to predict the range of outcomes of large groups of three-body interactions. In recent years, various groups have figured out how to make statistical forecasts of hypothetical three-body matchups: For instance, if Earth tangled with Mars and Mercury thousands of times, how often would Mars get ejected? Now, a fresh perspective developed by physicist Barak Kol simplifies the probabilistic “three-body problem,” by looking at it from an abstract new perspective. The result achieves some of the most accurate predictions yet.
Physicists Edge Closer to Taming the Three-Body Problem, Charlie Wood, Scientific American