The two-body problem can be completely solved via two one-body problems, which only uses the four basic binary functions. However, the three-body problem cannot be solved with these functions and first-order integrals. So I am wondering, is there any finite numerical solution to the three-body problem?

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    – Alex
    Dec 10, 2021 at 2:04
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    Feb 3, 2022 at 10:15
  • 1
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    Feb 3, 2022 at 13:38
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1 Answer 1


In a sense, even solving the two body problem as a function of time is unsolvable in terms of the elementary functions. The problem is that the solution involves the solving for the inverse of Kepler's problem, $M = E - e \sin E$. This inverse function is transcendental and cannot be expressed in terms of the elementary functions. That said, it's fairly easy to solve for $E$ to an arbitrary degree of precision.

Regarding the three body problem, there are two special cases that are trivially solvable. These are the triangular Lagrange points (L4 and L5) for the restricted circular three body problem. The three linear Lagrange points are solutions to fifth order polynomials, and the solutions cannot be expressed using the elementary functions. But once again, it's fairly easy to solve for the locations of the three three linear Lagrange points using approximation techniques.

Those restricted three body problem Lagrange points are special cases. The generic case of the three body problem is notoriously unsolvable in terms of the elementary functions. There is an infinite series solution, but nobody uses it. Over a century ago there was a prize for solving the three body problem. Karl Frithiof Sundman was awarded that prize in 1912 for showing that a solution exists in the form of an infinite series in which the terms are ever increasing powers of the cube root of time. The reason no one uses this solution is that the number of required terms can be huge. Eight million terms is not near enough. It's more on the order of $10^{8000000}$ terms.


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