The three-body problem involves finding the possible orbits for a set of three celestial bodies all affecting each other gravitationally. For example, a triple star system like HD 188753, seen here in a NASA artist’s impression (as viewed from a hypothetical moon of a possible planet):

The three-body problem has posed a challenge since Isaac Newton. A recent paper by Milovan Šuvakov and Veljko Dmitrašinovic, entitled “Three Classes of Newtonian Three-Body Planar Periodic Orbits” and accepted for publication in *Physical Review Letters*, presents several new families of solutions to the gravitational equations. Here are two of the solutions – the “Figure 8” (previously discovered by Cristopher Moore in 1993), and the “Ying-Yang 1a” (one of those discovered by Šuvakov and Dmitrašinovic):

Some of those orbits border on the chaotic! See also the draft paper by Šuvakov and Dmitrašinovic here and their gallery of images here.

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It’s almost a relief to see Physicists getting down to solving a long standing and difficult problem.

The paper is interesting, and they have beautiful diagrams.

Nice, isn’t it? Of course they’re doing NEWTONIAN mechanics. Relativistic solutions are much harder.