The chaotic four-body problem in Newtonian gravity -I. Identical point-particles

Nathan W.C. Leigh, Nicholas C. Stone, Aaron M. Geller, Michael M. Shara, Harsha Muddu, Diana Solano-Oropeza, Yancey Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper, we study the chaotic four-body problem in Newtonian gravity. Assuming point particles and total encounter energies ≤0, the problem has three possible outcomes. We describe each outcome as a series of discrete transformations in energy space, using the diagrams first presented in Leigh & Geller (see the appendix). Furthermore, we develop a formalism for calculating probabilities for these outcomes to occur, expressed using the density of escape configurations per unit energy, and based on the Monaghan description originally developed for the three-body problem. We compare this analytic formalism to results from a series of binary-binary encounters with identical point particles, simulated using the FEWBODY code. Each of our three encounter outcomes produces a unique velocity distribution for the escaping star(s). Thus, these distributions can potentially be used to constrain the origins of dynamically formed populations, via a direct comparison between the predicted and observed velocity distributions. Finally, we show that, for encounters that form stable triples, the simulated single star escape velocity distributions are the same as for the three-body problem. This is also the case for the other two encounter outcomes, but only at low virial ratios. This suggests that single and binary stars processed via single-binary and binary-binary encounters in dense star clusters should have a unique velocity distribution relative to the underlying Maxwellian distribution (provided the relaxation time is sufficiently long) or if ejected from the cluster, which can be calculated analytically.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)3311-3325
Number of pages15
Issue number3
StatePublished - 11 Dec 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Binaries: close
  • Globular clusters: general
  • Gravitation
  • Methods: analytical
  • Scattering
  • Stars: kinematics and dynamics

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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