Gravitational lensing and algebra

8 06 2008

You space types who struggled with algebra – this one’s for you. A lady working on gravitational lenses – bending light rays with gravity – was trying to figure out how many images she would wind up with given different numbers of planets and various configurations. She figured out that it would be 5n-5, where n is the number of planets, and it is important that there is more than 1 planet in the configuration.

Meanwhile, some mathematicians were working on some fundamental algebra problems involving rational harmonic functions. They hypothesized that the limit was 5x-5, but couldn’t prove it. Until they read the astronomy paper and found their answer. Neither had the complete answer, but together they triumphed over the forces of evil and saved the galaxy!

OK, over the top. But you can read more on this collaboration, with links to the original articles and people.

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