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Airys Equation

MATH 2640, Fall 2012

Dr. Saber Hashim
Krista Sexton & Bongsu Kim

Airy function

The Airy function is named

after the British astronomer
and physicist George Biddell
Airy (18011892), who
encountered it in his early
study of optics in physics (Airy
1838). The notation Ai(x) was
introduced by Harold Jeffreys.
Airy had become the British
Astronomer Royal in 1835, and
he held that post until his
retirement in 1881.

Airy function Theory

Theory behind Airys equation is the

theory of electromagnetic diffraction
and radio wave propagation. Airy
functions play an important role in the
theory of asymptotic representations of
various special functions. They have
diverse applications in mathematical
physicsfor example, in the theory of
the diffraction of radio waves at the
earths surface. The Airy function also
underlies the form of the intensity
near an optical directional caustic,
such as that of the rainbow.
Historically, this was the
mathematical problem that led Airy to
develop this special function. The Airy
function is also important in
microscopy and astronomy; this
describes the pattern, due to
diffraction and interference, produced
by a point source of light.

What kind of problems is the

method well-suited for?
y''+p(t) y'+q(t) y=0
The series solutions method is used
primarily, when the coefficients p(t)
or q(t) are non-constant.
Airy functions are prominently used in
problems defined by nonlinear equations.

The easiest example of Airys

y''-t y=0

This equation is used in physics

to model the diffraction of light.
We want to find power
series solutions for this
second-order linear
differential equation.



Useful for the following

certain class of applications
Classical physics
Physical optics,
Electromagnetism, Radiative

Fluid Mechanics
Continuity equation

Quantum physics
Nonlinear wave propagation
WKB method
Solves certain differential

Momentum Equation in x and y


, where
F(x) is smooth and
positive on the O(1) scale

The Airys equation works well when

trying to solve Power Series
Radius of Convergence

Apply Ratio Test,

which gives us

Analyzing the result
the ratio test tells us
that the power
series converges
only when

or | x + 3 | < 4
The radius of convergence is R = 4


Abramowitz, M. and Stegun, I. A. (Eds.). "Airy Functions." 10.4.1 in Handbook of

Mathematical Functions with Formulas, Graphs, and Mathematical Tables, 9th
Airy (1838), "On the intensity of light in the neighbourhood of a caustic" , Transactions
of the Cambridge Philosophical Society (University Press) 6: 379402
Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, p. 413, 1995.
Boston, MA: Academic Press, p. 121, 1997.
Lebedev, N. N. Spetsialnye funktsii i ikh prilozheniia. 2nd ed. Moscow-Leningrad,
New York: Dover, pp. 446-452, 1972.
Olver (1974). Asymptotics and Special Functions, Chapter 11. Academic Press, New
Press, WH; Teukolsky, SA; Vetterling, WT; Flannery, BP (2007), "Section 6.6.3. Airy
Functions" , Numerical Recipes: The Art of Scientific Computing (3rd ed.), New
York: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-88068-8
Valle, Olivier; Soares, Manuel (2004), Airy functions and applications to physics ,
London: Imperial College Press, ISBN 978-1-86094-478-9, MR 2114198
Zwillinger, D. (Ed.). CRC Standard Mathematical Tables and Formulae.
Zwillinger, D. Handbook of Differential Equations, 3rd ed.