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Eur. J. Phys. 17 (1996) 6370.

Printed in the UK


The restricted gravitational three-body problem trajectories associated with Lagrange xed points
P H Borcherds
School of Physics and Space Research, The University of Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK Received 29 June 1995, in nal form 21 September 1995

Abstract. Studies of the restricted three-body problem can help in understanding the dynamics of three-body interactions in the solar system. In the rotating coordinate system based on the two principal bodies there are ve xed Lagrange points. The equations of motion of the third body near a Lagrange point may be linearized, showing that under certain conditions there can be librational motion about the Lagrange points. Some examples of numerical studies of trajectories associated with Lagrange points are shown in inertial and in rotating coordinates, and are discussed. The examples include librations, horseshoe orbits and chaotic orbits. The restricted three-body problem, with its four degrees of freedom, provides considerable opportunities for project work in computational physics.

Abstract (Serbian). Rad na analizi problema tri tela u ogranicenom slucaju moze pomoci boljem razumevanju dinamike tri tela u suncevom sistemu. U koordinatnom sistemu koji rotira, vezanim za dva primarna tela, postoje pet stacionarnih Lagrangevih tacaka. Jednacine kretanja treceg tela u blizini Lagranzeve tacke mogu biti linearizovane, I pod izvesnim uslovima pokazuju da moze postojati libraciono kretanje oko Lagranzevih tacaka. Prikazani su primeri numerickih resenja putanja oko Lagranzevih tacaka u inercijalnim I rotirajucim koordinatama. Primeri ukljucuju libracije, potkovicne orbite I haoticne orbite. Ograniceni problem tri tela, sa cetiri stepena slobode pruza znacajne mogucnosti za studentske projekte iz numericke zike.

1. Introduction Accurate prediction of the motions of bodies in the solar system requires the solution of a many-body problem, which can only be done numerically. Obtaining insight into the behaviour of any dynamical system from a numerical solution is difcult: in the many-body problem, the existence of a large number of dynamical variables compounds the difculty. One approach to obtaining some understanding of the dynamics of the many-body problem is to simplify the problem, by studying the dynamics of two or three bodies. The analytic solution of the two-body problem has been well known since the time of Newton, at least in the non-relativistic limit. The two bodies move in similar conic section orbits, with foci at the centre of mass. Keplers establishment, from observation, of the laws of planetary motion, which hold for the two-body problem shows that many features of solar system dynamics are well explained by the two-body approximation. The gravitational three-body problem cannot be

solved analytically. There has been extensive study of the restricted three-body problem (e.g. Bate et al 1971, Roy 1982, Szebehely 1967), in which the following assumptions are made: (i) Two of the bodies, the principal bodies, or the sun and planet, have nite mass. The third body, the satellite or spacecraft, has negligible mass. (ii) The principal bodies move in circular paths about their centre of mass. (iii) The motion of the third body lies in the orbital plane of the two principal bodies. Even when subjected to these restrictions, the motion of the third body cannot be found analytically (except in the ve special cases investigated by Lagrange). Since the orbits of most of the planets are almost circular, and since most of their orbits lie close to the plane of the ecliptic, the restricted three-body problem provides a good base on which to model the dynamics of three-body interactions in the solar system. In the (restricted) three-body problem there is a much richer dynamical behaviour than in the two-body

c 1996 IOP Publishing Ltd & The European Physical Society


P H Borcherds

Table 1. Initial conditions, the Jacobi constant and period. Figure 3 4 4 5 6 7 Lagrange point 4 4 4 4 3 3 displacement 0.025 0.02 0.055 0.06 0.5 0.09775 velocity 0.2 0 0 0 7.7478 0 Jacobi constant 2.9998 3.0003 3.002 3.002 2.733 3.034 period years 12.48 21.48 33.57 1.0 3.0

problem. New phenomena are observed which have no counterpart in the two-body problem. Examples include the sling shot effect, by which a space craft gains energy from a close interaction with a planet (e.g. Borcherds and McCauley, 1994) and the existence of xed points (Lagrange points). In this paper we discuss trajectories associated with Lagrange points, including librations, horseshoe orbits and chaotic orbits. There is a considerable literature on the restricted threebody problem and on attempts to classify types of trajectories. See Bartlett (1975) and Szebehely (1967) for comprehensive surveys. The study of the (restricted) three-body problem involves a combination of analytic and computational techniques. The emphasis in this paper is on computational techniques. The three-body problem is a rich source of project work for students in computational physics. Some possible topics are suggested in the discussion at the end of the paper. 2. The restricted three-body problem: The equations of motion and the Jacobi constant In the restricted problem energy is not conserved, since the effect of the third body on the motions of the other bodies is neglected. However there is a conserved quantity, called the Jacobi constant, which in some sense plays the part of the energy of the third body. In practical applications, the fact that energy is not conserved is unimportant: the mass of the earth (6 1024 kg) and of other planets is so much greater than that of a space craft that any attempt by a computer program to include the energy of the space craft would be lost in rounding errors. Using the rotating coordinate system shown in gure (1), the equations of motion of the third body are U (1) x 2 y = x U (2) y +2 x = y where is the angular velocity of the primary bodies about their centre of mass, and U is an effective potential U=

Figure 1. The inertial coordinate system (X , Y ) and the rotating coordinate system (x , y ). m1 and m2 are the principal bodies, m3 the third body. The origin is at the centre of mass.

The rst term in U arises from the use of the rotating coordinate system, and gives rise to centrifugal forces. The second term is the gravitational potential of the two principal bodies. The equations of motion have an integral: multiplying equation (1) by dx/dt , equation (2) by dy/dt , then adding and integrating, we obtain (x x +y y) dt = U U x + y dt. x y 1 1 2 = v2 (x + y) 2 2 (4)

The left-hand side of equation (4) is (x x +y y) dt = (5)

where v is the velocity (in rotating coordinates). The right-hand side of equation (4) is U C U x + y dt = U . x y 2 (6)

U is known as the Jacobi integral, and C , the constant of the motion is known as the Jacobi constant. From equations (5) and (6) we obtain v 2 = 2U C =
2 2

r + k2

m1 m2 + r1 r2


(x 2 + y 2 ) + k 2

m1 m2 + r1 r2


On a given trajectory C has a constant value: in this it may be thought of as the analogue of energy, which is conserved in a truly Hamiltonian system. Since v 2 must be positive, equation (7) places limits on a trajectory.

restricted gravitational three-body problem

65 Whichever method is used to derive the equations for the collinear xed points, one arrives at a fth degree equation, which depends upon the mass ratio m. The Newton Raphson method may be used to solve these equations: the method appears to be robust for this problem. 4. Motion near the Lagrange xed points In the rotating coordinate system, let the coordinates of a xed point be (X0 , Y0 ), and consider the equations of motion of a particle at (X0 + x, Y0 + y). The linearized equations of motion, derived from equations (1) and (2), on setting the angular velocity = 1 are x 2y =x 2U 2U + y x 2 xy 2 U 2U y + 2x =x +y . xy y (9a) (9b)

Figure 2. The ve Lagrange xed points in the rotating coordinate system. m1 is 100 times heavier than m2 . In subsequent gures the Lagrange points are shown similarly, but are not labelled.

This is a normal mode problem, for which the characteristic equation is

2 4 + (4 Uxx Uyy )2 + Uxx Uyy Uxy = 0.

The restriction is that U C/2. The curve U = C/2 is called the zero velocity curve for that value of C , and can be used to obtain some insight into the dynamics of the three-body problem.


3. Fixed points As shown originally by Lagrange, there are ve xed points for the equations of motion in the rotating coordinate system (equations (1) and (2)). They are known as Lagrange points, and may be found by setting the gradient of U to zero. The positions of the Lagrange points are shown in gure (2), for a value of the mass ratio = 0.01, where the mass ratio is dened to be m2 (8) = m1 and is always less than one, except in the Copenhagen problem, when it is set equal to one. Solving U = 0, it can be shown that two of the xed points are at the vertices of equilateral triangles (with the primary bodies at the other vertices), and that the other three xed points are collinear with the primary bodies. The positions of the collinear Lagrange points may be found either by calculating U along the line joining the primaries, or by a more intuitive approach: at the xed points the centrifugal and gravitational forces cancel: for the collinear points it is then simple to write down the equation for each point. L1 lies between the two principal bodies, and is closer to the lighter one; at L1 the gravitational forces are opposed. L2 lies beyond the lighter body, but is close to it. L3 is on the far side of the heavy body; for small values of the mass ratio, the distance from m1 to L3 is almost equal to the distance between the primary bodies.

Since equation (10) is quadratic in 2 , values of the characteristic may easily be found. Imaginary values of correspond to periodic solutions, which are called librations, real values of correspond to exponential solutions. 4.1. Motion near the equilateral xed points Conditions near the two equilateral Lagrange points are similar. At L4 the values of the second derivatives of U are Uxx = 3/4, Uyy = 9/4, Uxy = (3 3/4)(1 2), and the characteristic equation is 27 (1 ) = 0 (11) 4 whose solutions are 1 1 2 = 1 27(1 ) (12) 2 2 If the discriminant, in equation (12) is positive, the normal modes are periodic. 4 + 2 + = 1 27(1 ) and 1 1 23 + 4 = . (14) 2 2 27 The critical value of the mass ratio, when = 0 is c = 0.03852(= 1/25.96). For smaller values of mass ratio, small periodic librations about the equilateral Lagrange points can occur. For larger values of mass ratio, the characteristic values are real, with trajectories moving away from the xed point. In the three-body problems involving bodies in the solar system, the mass ratio is less than c . For the EarthMoon system = 0.012, and for the SunJupiter (13)


P H Borcherds

Figure 3. Librations about L4 , plotted in rotating coordinates. Both long- and short-period motions are present.

system, = 0.001. For other planets, the mass ratio, relative to the sun is even smaller. For all such systems, the equilateral Lagrange points are stable: a third-body can remain close to the Lagrange point indenitely. It has been observed that there are clusters of asteroids near the SunJupiter equilateral points, these asteroids are known as Trojans. When the mass ratio is small compared with c , we can approximate the square root in equation (12) to get explicit expressions for the characteristic values from equation (12): 2 = 1 + 27/4(1 ) 2 = 27/4(1 ) (15) (16)

or, putting = i, and approximating the square root arising from equation (15), = (1 + 27/8(1 )) = (27/4(1 )) (17) (18)
Figure 4. Long-period librations about L4 : (a ) initial displacements 0.02 and 0.055 from L4 , plotted in rotating coordinates, (b ) initial displacement 0.055, plotted in inertial coordinates. The trajectory is plotted for complete period (21.48 years).

For a mass ratio well below the critical value, the frequencies predicted by equations (17) and (18) are well separated. The solution corresponding to equation (17) is a short-period libration, that to equation (18) is a long-period libration. In general the periods of the two solutions, and the period of the principal bodies, are mutually incommensurate. A trajectory starting near an equilateral Lagrange point with arbitrary initial conditions will display both long-period and short-period librations; a typical trajectory near the equilateral xed point L4 is shown in gure 3. In a numerical simulation, in order to examine a particular normal mode, such as a long-period libration, it is necessary to choose appropriate initial conditions: the initial position and velocity must each be specied. Rabi (1961) has derived suitable conditions for generating long-period librations in the vicinity of the equilateral xed points. Some long-period librations found using his initial conditions are shown in gures 4 and 5. It may be noted that in 1961 Rabis calculations on an IBM 650 needed about 1 h 40 m to complete one libration of moderate amplitude. On an inexpensive

Acorn Risc computer, running an interpreted BASIC program in extended precision arithmetic, a similar calculation takes 20 s, including the time to plot the trajectory. 4.2. Motion near the collinear xed points An analysis similar to that in subsection 4.1 can be applied to motion near the three collinear xed points, but the values of the second derivatives of U do not have the simple forms found at the equilateral points. At the collinear points, for small values of the mass ratio, one pair of characteristic values is imaginary (librational motion), while the other pair is real. A libration about L3 is shown in gure 6. The motion associated with the a real characteristic value may not be unbounded, since it may be limited by a zero-velocity curve. The characteristic values near a xed point give information about the motion close to that point, but do not give any information about how a trajectory with a real characteristic value will behave

restricted gravitational three-body problem 5.1. Specifying the initial conditions


For a body starting near a Lagrange point, the initial conditions are specied as follows. (i) Near an equilateral lagrange point, e.g. L4 , the initial point lies on the extension of the 60 line through the primary body and the Lagrange point: the displacement is specied relative to the Lagrange point. In the program, setting the velocity to zero gives Rabis (1961) conditions. (ii) Near a collinear point, the initial position is specied relative to the Lagrange point by the two parameters displacement and angle. In all cases, the velocity specied is is a relative tangential term.

5.2. Small-period librations about L4 A typical trajectory, with small initial displacement and velocity is shown plotted in rotating coordinates in gure 3. Both short- and long-period librations are present, and since their periods are incommensurate, it is difcult to interpret a trajectory after it has been plotted. If one can watch it being plotted, then it is easier to understand what is happening. In the gure the trajectory has been plotted for slightly longer than one period of the longperiod libration. If the trajectory in gure 3 were to be plotted over a long time, it would eventually ll up the area inside a limiting envelope, and be even more difcult to interpret.
Figure 5. Horseshoe orbit: (a ) initial displacement 0.06 from L4 , plotted in rotating coordinates, (b ) as (a ) but plotted in inertial coordinates for complete period (33.57 years). The trajectory shows orbit swapping clearly.

5.3. Long-period librations about L4 The initial conditions for long-period librations derived by Rabi (1961) start the trajectory close to the extension of the 60 line joining the heavy body (m1 ) to the xed point (L4 ). Long-period librations started this way are completely specied by a single parameter, the initial radial displacement from the xed point. It can be seen from gure 4(a) that the orbits are elongated. As the initial displacement is increased the orbit approaches the L3 xed point, touches it and surrounds it, the nature of the orbit changes, it becomes horseshoe shaped, and encloses the three xed points, L4 , L3 and L5 , as can be seen in gure 5(a). Two trajectories are also shown plotted in inertial coordinates, in gures 4(b) and 5(b). Figure 5(b) shows the phenomenon of orbit swapping, in which a pair of bodies orbiting a massive body in similar orbits exchange their positions, the body on the inner trajectory catches up with the one on the outer trajectory. As they approach, their gravitational interaction causes them to appear to swap orbits. This is another way of interpreting the librations shown in gures 4(a) and 5(a).

far from the xed point. Close to L3 real characteristic values give rise to horseshoe orbits, which are periodic (gure 5), but whose period does not depend on the local conditions near L3 .

5. Numerical results The calculations were carried out using a RungeKutta Merson integration procedure (Gerald 1978) in which the truncation error is estimated at each step, and kept within specied limits by automatically adjusting the size of the integration step. The details of the trajectories, including the size and period, depend upon the mass ratio, = m2 /m1 . All the results shown in this paper used a value of = 103 , which is close to the value for the JupiterSun system.


P H Borcherds

Figure 6. Librations about L3 : (a ) Initial displacement 0.5 from L3 , initial relative velocity 7.7478. The trajectory is plotted in rotating coordinates, (b ) as (a ), but plotted in inertial coordinates for complete period (1 year): the dashed line shows orbit of the secondary.

5.4. Normal modes near L3 Since the restricted three-body problem has four dynamical variables, there are four eigenvalues at each xed point. At the L3 point one pair of eigenvalues is real, corresponding to the horseshoe orbits. The other pair is imaginary, leading to orbits like that shown in gure 6. When the initial conditions for long-period L4 librations are such that the orbit just touches the collinear line, it does so at the point, which, for this motion appears to be a hyperbolic point. It is possible to start a horseshoe orbit with initial conditions near L3 , a displacement of 0.01 and a velocity of 0.1 gives a horseshoe which passes close to L3 . An initial displacement of 0.01 and velocity 0.2 gives a horseshoe orbit with signicant short-term motion as well, this leads to chaotic motion: see section 6.1 for further discussion. Figure 7 shows yet another periodic motion which starts near the L3 point. This resonant orbit has a period equal to 3/5 that of the primary bodies. The third body circles the primary ve times while the secondary is

Figure 7. 5/3 resonance, starting near L3 : (a ) Initial displacement 0.09775 from L3 . The trajectory is plotted in rotating coordinates, (b ) as in (a ), but plotted in inertial coordinates for complete period (3 years): the dashed line shows the orbit of the secondary.

completing three orbits.

6. Discussion In the restricted three-body problem, since there are four dynamical variables: two components each of displacement and of velocity, the phase trajectory is a curve in four-dimensional phase space: the gures in this paper show only the displacement, in twodimensional projections, plotted in either inertial or rotating coordinates. A conservative dynamical system with two variables has xed points which are either elliptic or hyperbolic. As can be seen, by comparing gures 5 and 6, in the three-body problem, with four dynamical variables, the L3 point can appear to be either elliptic or hyperbolic. With a suitable choice of initial conditions, one can nd trajectories which are periodic in the rotating

restricted gravitational three-body problem coordinate system. One can even nd trajectories which are periodic in both coordinate systems, such as the resonance shown in gure 7. Most of those trajectories which are periodic in the rotating coordinate system, such as the librations shown in gure 4 have a period which is not commensurate with that of the primary bodies. The consequence of this is that plotting their trajectories in inertial coordinates produces such gures as 4(b) and 5(b), from which it is difcult to extract detailed information. In general a trajectory will not be periodic in either the inertial or the rotating coordinate system. Figure 3 shows part of the trajectory of a libration near L4 , which, if plotted for a longer time would be very difcult to interpret in any detail even in the rotating coordinate system. When studying a dynamical system, the ability to display the phase trajectory, or its projection, graphically is valuable in that it allows one to identify long term effects, such as horseshoe orbits and the effect of shortperiod motion in horseshoe orbits, leading to chaos. Once such effects have been observed, it may then be possible to apply analytical techniques to obtain further insight, but visual observation is a powerful tool in identifying phenomena for further investigation. 6.1. Horseshoe orbits and chaotic orbits As seen by a pure long-period libration (originating near L4 ) the L3 point appears to be a hyperbolic xed point. The family of long-period librations about L4 may be divided into two groups: tadpole orbits about L4 only and, for larger values of the initial displacement, horseshoe orbits which enclose L3 , L4 and L5 ; with a separatrix (through L3 ) dividing the groups. For a trajectory close to a pure horseshoe orbit, but which has a small amount of short-period motion, the picture changes. No longer is there a well dened separatrix. For some range of initial conditions trajectories may be chaotic: a trajectory may follow a horseshoe orbit, but instead of traversing each arm of the horseshoe alternately, it may occasionally be reected near L3 back on to the arm it has just traversed. What happens to a body on such a trajectory as it approaches L3 will depend upon the phase of any short-period motion present. If, near L3 the long- and short-period motions are in the same direction, then the trajectory will continue on to the other arm of the horseshoe. If the long- and short-period motions are opposed, then it is possible that the trajectory will return to the arm it has just traversed. Since the periods of the long- and short-period motions are incommensurate, and since the point at which reection might take place will depend critically upon the current magnitude of the short-period motion, it will be impossible to make a long-term prediction of the trajectory: in other words, we have a system displaying deterministic chaos. On which arm of the horseshoe the body will be at later times, will depend sensitively on the initial conditions. The larger the amount of short-period motion present, the larger the range of initial conditions leading to

69 chaotic trajectories. In a real situation, or in a numerical simulation, it is never possible to completely eliminate the short-period motion, thus close to a separatrix one may always expect to nd chaotic behaviour. To observe such chaotic behaviour, start a trajectory near the L3 point. With an initial displacement of 0.01 and an initial (relative) velocity of 0.1 a horseshoe is obtained. With the same displacement and a velocity of 0.2 the third body initially follows a horseshoe path but there is sufcient short-term motion to lead to reections after not very many passes. It takes an innite time to traverse a separatrix, and an extremely long time to traverse an orbit close to the separatrix. An exploration of the conditions for chaotic orbits can be time consuming. 6.2. Which coordinate system to use? Which coordinate system to use when studying the restricted three-body problem will depend upon what aspect of the three-body problem one is trying to solve and whether one is doing so analytically or numerically. When studying the slingshot effect, the inertial coordinate system is to be preferred (Borcherds and McCauley 1994). When locating the Lagrange points, and determining their stability, the rotating Cartesian coordinate system is convenient, while Bartlett (1975) commends confocal rotating coordinates when classifying families of trajectories. To solve the equations of motion numerically we have used inertial Cartesian coordinates both for the slingshot problem and for the work discussed in this paper. When the third body is not very close to either of the massive bodies, its motion in the inertial coordinate system is smooth, and its trajectory may be approximated by a conic section orb it with slowly changing parameters, focussed on the centre of mass. Under these conditions, the error terms in numerical integration, with a xed step size, are more or less constant. In contrast, when such a trajectory is plotted in rotating coordinates, there may be cusps, as in gures 3 and 7(b), and it is possible, if one were integrating the equations of motion in rotating coordinates, that near such points it might be necessary to change the step size to keep the error terms within bounds. The program used employs a RungeKuttaMerson method, which adapts the step size to keep the truncation errors within bounds. For many of the librational motions the step size does not change: when it does change, it does so by only a factor of two up or down: in all the trajectories reported here, the step size was either 0.01 or 0.02 (years). In contrast, when calculating a slingshot trajectory the step size was found to change from 0.02 to 109 , and back again to 0.02 (e.g. Borcherds and McCauley 1994). Whatever system of coordinates one uses for calculation, it is desirable to display the trajectory in cartesian coordinates, either rotating or inertial or both. Examination of trajectories plotted in both inertial and rotating coordinates (gures 4 to 7) shows that it is


P H Borcherds Fourier analysis may be used to study the periodicity of the dynamical variables, e.g. x(t), both for orbits which are quasi-periodic, and for those which are chaotic. In the restricted problem, motion is conned to a plane. This restriction may be relaxed, and the threedimensional dynamics investigated. Students with a bias towards theoretical physics may like to look at the problem from a Hamiltonian point of view.

not easy to deduce from either representation what a trajectory in the other one will look like. 6.3. Some suggestions for further investigation For certain initial conditions near the L3 point (e.g. displacement 0.01, relative velocity 0.2) a body appears uncertain whether it is in a tadpole or a horseshoe orbit, leading to chaotic trajectories, as discussed in subsection 6.1. Such chaotic behaviour near hyperbolic points has been observed in other dynamical systems. Most such systems which have been studied are based on articial potentials with less physical reality than the restricted three-body problem. When the initial point is close to the L3 point (e.g. displacement 0.01, relative velocity 0), the trajectory is a horseshoe orbit: when the displacement from the Lagrange point is larger (0.1), the trajectory is a rosette about the primary (cf gure 7). The boundary between these two types of trajectory needs exploring. All the work discussed in detail here is based systems with a mass ratio of 0.001. This is well below the value at which the librations about L4 lose stability: see equation (14). A considerable amount of work has been done on the Copenhagen problem, in which the two heavy bodies have equal mass (see Bartlett (1975) and Szebehely (1967) for summaries and references). Some of the suggestions for further work can be extended to larger values of the mass ratio. Bartlett (1975) and Bartlett and Wagner (1965) give results in considerable detail for the Copenhagen problem. Their results are presented in confocal coordinates, which are convenient for classifying families of trajectories. Exploring the shapes of these families when they are plotted in cartesian coordinates, whether rotating or inertial should help our understanding of the nature of the families.

Acknowledgments The author wishes to thank Dr N Berovic for translating the abstract.

Bartlett J H 1975 Classical and modern mechanics (Birmingham, AL: University of Alabama Press) Bartlett J H and Wagner C A 1965 The restricted problem of three bodies (II) Mat. Fys. Ski. Videns. Selsk. 3 153 Bate R R, Mueller D D and White J E 1971 Fundamentals of Astrodynamics (New York: Dover) Borcherds P H and McCauley G P 1994 The gravitational three-body problem: optimising the slingshot Eur. J. Phys. 15 1629 Gerald C F 1978 Applied Numerical Analysis 2nd edition (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley) Rabi E 1961 Determination and survey of periodic Trojan orbits in the restricted problem of three bodies Astro. J 66 50013 Roy A E 1982 Orbital motion 2nd edition (Bristol: Hilger) Szebehely V 1967 Theory of orbits: the restricted problem of three bodies (New York: Academic)