Helmut Hofer

Institute for Advanced Study

March 10, 2010

The mathematical problems arising from modern celestial mechanics, which originated with Isaac Newton’s Principia in 1687, have led to many mathematical theories. Poincaré (1854-1912) discovered that a system of several celestial bodies moving under Newton’s gravitational law shows chaotic dynamics. Earlier, Euler (1707–83) and Lagrange (1736–1813) found instances of stable motion; a spacecraft in the gravitational fields of the sun, earth, and the moon provides an interesting system of this kind. Helmut Hofer, Professor in the School of Mathematics, explains how these observations have led to the development of a geometry based on area rather than distance.