Transition to instability of the leapfrogging vortex quartet

Roy H. Goodman, Brandon M. Behring

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The point-vortex system is a system of longstanding interest in nonlinear dynamics, describing the motion of a two-dimensional inviscid fluid that is irrotational except at a discrete set of moving point vortices, at which the vorticity diverges. The leapfrogging orbit consists of two rotating pairs of like-signed vortices which, taken as a quartet, propagate at constant velocity. It is known that if the two pairs are initially widely separated, the motion is stable, while if they are closer together it becomes unstable, with this relation represented by a dimensionless parameter α defined in the text. We here demonstrate analytically that the transition from stability to instability happens at a critical value α=ϕ−2, where ϕ is the golden ratio. This value had been hypothesized based on careful numerics by Tophøj and Aref, and by the present authors using a semi-analytic argument but not previously demonstrated through exact analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104068
JournalMechanics Research Communications
StatePublished - Feb 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


  • Bifurcation theory
  • Hamiltonian mechanics
  • Point vortices


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