Dynamical Chaos in the Wisdom-Holman Integrator: Origins and Solutions

Kevin P. Rauch
Dept. of Astronomy, Univ. of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742-2421

Matthew Holman
SAO, Mail Stop 18, 60 Garden St., Cambridge, MA 02138


We examine the non-linear stability of the Wisdom-Holman (WH) symplectic mapping applied to the integration of perturbed, highly eccentric (e > 0.9) two-body orbits. We find that the method is unstable and introduces artificial chaos into the computed trajectories for this class of problems, unless the step size is chosen small enough to always resolve periapse, in which case the method is generically stable. This `radial orbit instability' persists even for weakly perturbed systems. Using the Stark problem as a fiducial test case (cf. Lessnick 1996), we investigate the dynamical origin of this instability and argue that the numerical chaos results from the overlap of step size resonances (cf. Wisdom & Holman 1992); interestingly, for the Stark problem many of these resonances appear to be absolutely stable.

We similarly examine the robustness of several alternative integration methods: a time-regularized version of the WH mapping suggested by Mikkola (1997); the potential-splitting (PS) method of Duncan, Levison, & Lee (1998); and two methods incorporating approximations based on Stark motion instead of Kepler motion (cf. Newman et al. 1997). The two fixed point problem and a related, more general problem are used to comparatively test the various methods for several types of motion. Among the tested algorithms, the time-transformed WH mapping is clearly the most efficient and stable method of integrating eccentric, nearly-Keplerian orbits in the absence of close encounters. For test particles subject to both high eccentricities and very close encounters, we find an enhanced version of the PS method---incorporating time regularization, force-center switching, and an improved kernel function---to be both economical and highly versatile. We conclude that Stark-based methods are of marginal utility in N-body type integrations. Additional implications for the symplectic integration of N-body systems are discussed.

Keywords: celestial mechanics --- chaos --- methods: numerical

Status: Appeared in The Astronomical Journal, 117, 1087 (1999).