Rare Event Sampling Improves Mercury Instability Statistics

Dorian S. Abbot, Robert J. Webber, Sam Hadden, Darryl Seligman, Jonathan Weare

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Due to the chaotic nature of planetary dynamics, there is a non-zero probability that Mercury's orbit will become unstable in the future. Previous efforts have estimated the probability of this happening between 3 and 5 billion years in the future using a large number of direct numerical simulations with an N-body code, but were not able to obtain accurate estimates before 3 billion years in the future because Mercury instability events are too rare. In this paper we use a new rare-event sampling technique, Quantile Diffusion Monte Carlo (QDMC), to estimate that the probability of a Mercury instability event in the next 2 billion years is approximately 10-4 in the REBOUND N-body code. We show that QDMC provides unbiased probability estimates at a computational cost of up to 100 times less than direct numerical simulation. QDMC is easy to implement and could be applied to many problems in planetary dynamics in which it is necessary to estimate the probability of a rare event.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number236
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 20 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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