The Three-Body Problem: what is it?

Imagine two gravitational bodies whirling around each other in space. You know their initial masses, positions and velocities. With a little bit of Newton, it’s fairly simple to predict how they will react to each other and to plot their future paths around each other. But introduce a third body and you have our titular problem: the gravitational balance between the three bodies shifts constantly and it becomes extremely difficult to predict their tangled future paths.  This is the chaotic system into which the aliens of Cixin Liu’s THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM are born. Luckily, only 4.3 light years away there’s a nice blue planet orbiting a single star that’s not dancing a stellar tarantella with any neighbours…

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