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By the spring of 2014 I had largely given up on the three-body problem. Out of ideas, I began programming on my laptop to generate and search through approximate solutions.

These attempts would never solve my problem outright, but they might garner evidence toward an answer. My lack of programming expertise and resulting impatience slowed the process, making it an unpleasant experience for a pencil-and-paper mathematician like myself. I sought out my old friend Carles Simó, a professor at the University of Barcelona, to convince him to aid me in my clunky search.

That fall I traveled to Spain to meet with Simó, who had a reputation as one of the most inventive and careful numerical analysts working in celestial mechanics. He is also a direct man who does not waste time or mince words. My first afternoon in his office, after I had explained my question, he looked at me with piercing eyes and asked, “Richard, why do you care?”

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Category: Science