New Solutions to an Old Problem
You might be wondering what all these scribbles are doing on your dash? Or are they Spirographs maybe?
They are actually solutions to the three-body problem. The famous problem was formulated in the 17th century, and a number of first solutions were offered by Lagrange and Euler, known as the central configuration solutions (or the Lagrange-Euler family) in the 18th century. Only in the 20th century the problem was revisited, First by a group known as the Copenhagen School, led by astronomer S.E. Strömgren, who tried to find solutions to the three-body problem by confining the movement of the three bodies to a single plain. This is also known as the Copenhagen Problem. This was the problem on which Broucke and Hénon found a family of solutions in the seventies. Christopher Moore discovered the last family, the fancy figure 8 family you can see on top, in 1993.
No new solution families were found anymore, up until last year, when Milovan Šuvakov and Veljko Dmitrašinović from the institute of Physics Belgrade decided to take up the challenge. By tweaking the initial conditions of the known solutions Šuvakov and Dmitrašinović have found a stunning 13 new families of solutions. They described and classified their solutions on a shape space sphere, a method suggested by Montgomery in 1998. Funny fact, after the definition of this shape space sphere, Montgomery rediscovered the recently discovered Figure 8 family in 2000.
The next step for Šuvakov and Dmitrašinović is to check whether the orbits are stable or not. If some of the new families are found to be stable, astronomers might encounter somewhere in the universe.
For more information on the new orbits and their classification: Read the Article by Šuvakov and Dmitrašinović on arXiv.org or the news article about the discovery from Science.
All the solution families can also be found on this beautiful website of Šuvakov and Dmitrašinović, were the solutions are also plotted on the shape space sphere. This website is also the source of the images.
More information on the Three Body Problem can be found on Wikipedia or Scholarpedia (the latter is a lot more extensive).
P.S. There is a as well another solution to the three-body problem, when it is assumed that one of the bodies has a negligible small mass and the two massive bodies move in a circular orbit. This problem is better known as the Circular restricted three-body problem.