The chaotic four-body problem in Newtonian gravity – II. An ansatz-based approach to analytical solutions

Carlos M. Barrera Retamal*, Nathan W.C. Leigh, Nicholas C. Stone

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper, we continue our analysis of the chaotic four-body problem and our study of binary–binary interactions in star clusters. We present a general ansatz-based analytical treatment using statistical mechanics, where each outcome of the four-body problem is regarded as some variation of the three-body problem. For example, when two single stars are produced (the 2 + 1 + 1 outcome), each ejection event is modelled as its own three-body interaction by assuming that the ejections are well separated in time. This is a generalization of the approach adopted in Paper I, based on the density-of-states formalism. There are three possible outcomes for the four-body problem with negative total energies: 2 + 2, 2 + 1 + 1, and 3 + 1. For each outcome, we apply an ansatz-based approach to deriving analytical distribution functions that describe the properties of the products of chaotic four-body interactions involving point particles. To test our theoretical distributions, we perform a set of scattering simulations in the equal-mass point-particle limit using FEWBODY, where we vary the initial ratio of binary semimajor axes. We compare our final theoretical distributions to the simulations for each particular scenario, finding consistently good agreement between the two. The highlights of our results include that binary–binary scatterings act to systematically destroy binaries producing instead a binary and two ejected stars (when the initial binary semimajor axes are similar) or a stable triple (when the initial semimajor axes are very different). The 2 + 2 outcome produces the widest binaries, and the 2 + 1 + 1 outcome produces the most compact binaries.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)198-208
Number of pages11
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.


  • binaries: close
  • globular clusters: general
  • gravitation
  • methods: analytical
  • scattering
  • stars: kinematics and dynamics


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