Unstable Brake Orbits in Symmetric Hamiltonian Systems
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In this thesis we investigate the existence and stability of periodic solutions of Hamiltonian systems with a discrete symmetry. The global existence of periodic motions can be proven using the classical techniques of the calculus of variations; our particular interest is in how the stability type of the solutions thus obtained can be determined analytically using solely the variational problem and the symmetries of the system -- we make no use of numerical or perturbation techniques. Instead, we use a method introduced in  in the context of a special case of the three-body problem. Using techniques from symplectic geometry, and specifically the Maslov index for curves of Lagrangian subspaces along the minimizing trajectories, we verify conditions which preclude the existence of eigenvalues of the monodromy matrix on the unit circle. We study the applicability of this method in two specific cases. Firstly, we consider another special case from celestial mechanics: the hip-hop solutions of the 2N-body problem. This is a family of Z_2-symmetric, periodic orbits which arise as collision-free minimizers of the Lagrangian action on a space of symmetric loops [14, 53]. Following a symplectic reduction, it is shown that the hip-hop solutions are brake orbits which are generically hyperbolic on the reduced energy-momentum surface. Secondly we consider a class of natural Hamiltonian systems of two degrees of freedom with a homogeneous potential function. The associated action functional is unbounded above and below on the function space of symmetric curves, but saddle points can be located by minimization subject to a certain natural constraint of a type first considered by Nehari [37, 38]. Using the direct method of the calculus of variations, we prove the existence of symmetric solutions of both prescribed period and prescribed energy. In the latter case, we employ a variational principle of van Groesen  based upon a modification of the Jacobi functional, which has not been widely used in the literature. We then demonstrate that the (constrained) minimizers are again hyperbolic brake orbits; this is the first time the method has been applied to solutions which are not globally minimizing.