Simple Physics and Integrators Accurately Reproduce Mercury Instability Statistics

Dorian S. Abbot, David M. Hernandez, Sam Hadden, Robert J. Webber, Georgios P. Afentakis, Jonathan Weare

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The long-term stability of the solar system is an issue of significant scientific and philosophical interest. The mechanism leading to instability is Mercury’s eccentricity being pumped up so high that Mercury either collides with Venus or is scattered into the Sun. Previously, only three five-billion-year N-body ensembles of the solar system with thousands of simulations have been run to assess long-term stability. We generate two additional ensembles, each with 2750 members, and make them publicly available at We find that accurate Mercury instability statistics can be obtained by (1) including only the Sun and the eight planets, (2) using a simple Wisdom-Holman scheme without correctors, (3) using a basic representation of general relativity, and (4) using a time step of 3.16 days. By combining our solar system ensembles with previous ensembles, we form a 9601-member ensemble of ensembles. In this ensemble of ensembles, the logarithm of the frequency of a Mercury instability event increases linearly with time between 1.3 and 5 Gyr, suggesting that a single mechanism is responsible for Mercury instabilities in this time range and that this mechanism becomes more active as time progresses. Our work provides a robust estimate of Mercury instability statistics over the next five billion years, outlines methodologies that may be useful for exoplanet system investigations, and provides two large ensembles of publicly available solar system integrations that can serve as test beds for theoretical ideas as well as training sets for artificial intelligence schemes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number190
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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