Strong approximation for the Markoff equation via nonabelian level structures on elliptic curves

Strong approximation for the Markoff equation via nonabelian level structures on elliptic curves

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William Yun Chen, Columbia University

Zoom link:  https://princeton.zoom.us/j/97126136441

Password: the three digit integer that is the cube of the sum of its digits

Following Bourgain, Gamburd, and Sarnak, we say that the Markoff equation x^2 + y^2 + z^2 - 3xyz = 0 satisfies strong approximation at a prime p if its integral points surject onto its F_p points. In 2016, Bourgain, Gamburd, and Sarnak were able to establish strong approximation at all but a sparse (but infinite) set of primes, and conjecture that it holds at all primes. Building on their results, in this talk I will explain how to obtain strong approximation for all but a finite and effectively computable set of primes, thus reducing the conjecture to a finite computation. The key result amounts to establishing a congruence on the degree of a certain line bundle on the moduli stack of elliptic curves with SL(2,p)-structures. To make contact with the Markoff equation, we use the fact that the Markoff surface is a level set of the character variety for SL(2) representations of the fundamental group of a punctured torus, and that the strong approximation conjecture can be expressed in terms of the mapping class group action on the character variety, which in turn also determines the geometry of the moduli stack of elliptic curves with SL(2,p)-structures. As time allows we will also describe a number of applications.