In classical mechanics, the Laplace–Runge–Lenz vector (or simply the LRL vector) is a vector used chiefly to describe the shape and orientation of the orbit of one astronomical body around another, such as a planet revolving around a star. For two bodies interacting by Newtonian gravity, the LRL vector is a constant of motion, meaning that it is the same no matter where it is calculated on the orbit; equivalently, the LRL vector is said to be conserved. More generally, the LRL vector is conserved in all problems in which two bodies interact by a central force that varies as the inverse square of the distance between them; such problems are called Kepler problems.
The hydrogen atom is a Kepler problem, since it comprises two charged particles interacting by Coulomb's law of electrostatics, another inverse square central force. The LRL vector was essential in the first quantum mechanical derivation of the spectrum of the hydrogen atom, before the development of the Schrödinger equation. However, this approach is rarely used today.
In classical and quantum mechanics, conserved quantities generally correspond to a symmetry of the system. The conservation of the LRL vector corresponds to an unusual symmetry; the Kepler problem is mathematically equivalent to a particle moving freely on the boundary of a four-dimensional sphere, so that the whole problem is symmetric under certain rotations of the four-dimensional space. This higher symmetry results from two properties of the Kepler problem: the velocity vector always moves in a perfect circle and, for a given total energy, all such velocity circles intersect each other in the same two points.
The Laplace–Runge–Lenz vector is named after Pierre-Simon de Laplace, Carl Runge and Wilhelm Lenz. It is also known as the Laplace vector, the Runge–Lenz vector and the Lenz vector. Ironically, none of those scientists discovered it. The LRL vector has been re-discovered several times and is also equivalent to the dimensionless eccentricity vector of celestial mechanics. Various generalizations of the LRL vector have been defined, which incorporate the effects of special relativity, electromagnetic fields and even different types of central forces.
Read more about Laplace–Runge–Lenz Vector: Context, History of Rediscovery, Mathematical Definition, Derivation of The Kepler Orbits, Circular Momentum Hodographs, Constants of Motion and Superintegrability, Evolution Under Perturbed Potentials, Poisson Brackets, Quantum Mechanics of The Hydrogen Atom, Conservation and Symmetry, Rotational Symmetry in Four Dimensions, Generalizations To Other Potentials and Relativity, Proofs That The Laplace–Runge–Lenz Vector Is Conserved in Kepler Problems, Alternative Scalings, Symbols and Formulations
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