Stability of relative equilibria of three vortices

Hassan Aref

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Three point vortices on the unbounded plane have relative equilibria wherein the vortices either form an equilateral triangle or are collinear. While the stability analysis of the equilateral triangle configurations is straightforward, that of the collinear relative equilibria is considerably more involved. The only comprehensive analysis available in the literature, by Tavantzis and Ting [Phys. Fluids 31, 1392 (1988)], is not easy to follow nor is it very physically intuitive. The symmetry between the three vortices is lost in this analysis. A different analysis is given based on explicit formulas for the three eigenvalues determining the stability, including a new formula for the angular velocity of rotation of a collinear relative equilibrium. A graphical representation of the space of vortex circulations is introduced, and the resultants between various polynomials that enter the problem are used. This approach adds considerable transparency to the solution of the stability problem and provides more physical understanding. The main results are summarized in a diagram that gives both the stability and instability of the various collinear relative equilibria and their sense of rotation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhysics of Fluids
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)094101
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

Copyright (2009) American Institute of Physics. This article may be downloaded for personal use only. Any other use requires prior permission of the author and the American Institute of Physics.


  • eigenvalues and eigenfunctions
  • pattern formation
  • flow instability
  • vortices


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