Embedding the Kepler Problem as a Surface of Revolution

Richard Moeckel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Solutions of the planar Kepler problem with fixed energy h determine geodesics of the corresponding Jacobi–Maupertuis metric. This is a Riemannian metric on ℝ2 if h ⩾ 0 or on a disk D ⊂ ℝ2 if h < 0. The metric is singular at the origin (the collision singularity) and also on the boundary of the disk when h < 0. The Kepler problem and the corresponding metric are invariant under rotations of the plane and it is natural to wonder whether the metric can be realized as a surface of revolution in ℝ3 or some other simple space. In this note, we use elementary methods to study the geometry of the Kepler metric and the embedding problem. Embeddings of the metrics with h ⩾ 0 as surfaces of revolution in ℝ3 are constructed explicitly but no such embedding exists for h < 0 due to a problem near the boundary of the disk. We prove a theorem showing that the same problem occurs for every analytic central force potential. Returning to the Kepler metric, we rule out embeddings in the three-sphere or hyperbolic space, but succeed in constructing an embedding in four-dimensional Minkowski spacetime. Indeed, there are many such embeddings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)695-703
Number of pages9
JournalRegular and Chaotic Dynamics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper was motivated by discussions with Richard Montgomery and Doug Arnold. The author was supported by NSF grant DMS-1712656.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Pleiades Publishing, Ltd.


  • 53A05
  • 53C42
  • 53C80
  • 70F05
  • 70F15
  • 70G45
  • Jacobi–Maupertuis metric
  • celestial mechanics
  • surfaces of revolution


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