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Luc TARTAR to John MACKEY, September 10, 2009

On Tuesday September 8, you asked to solve in integers 2a + 3b = 5c , which has two obvious solutions:
2 + 3 = 5 and 16 + 9 = 25. As shown below, there are no others.
Modulo 2, the equation is always true, but modulo 3 it implies 2a = 2c (mod 3), so that c = a (mod 2).
Modulo 5, the powers of 2 are 2, 4, 3, 1, and the powers of 3 are 3, 4, 2, 1, so that the equation implies
that either a and b are odd with b = a (mod 4), or that a and b are even with b = a + 2 (mod 4).
Modulo 4, the powers of 2 are 2 and then 0, the powers of 3 are 3, 1, and the powers of 5 are 1, so that
either a = 1 and b is odd, or a ≥ 2 and b is even.
This leaves two possibilities: the first one is a = 1, b = 1 (mod 4) and c = 1 (mod 2); the second one is
a even, b = a + 2 (mod 4), and c = a (mod 2).
Case a = 1, b = 1 (mod 4) and c = 1 (mod 2), i.e. 2 + 3b = 5c .
Modulo 7, the powers of 3 are 3, 2, 6, 4, 5, 1, and the powers of 5 are 5, 4, 6, 2, 3, 1, and because b and
c must be odd one must have 2+ an element of the list 3, 6, 5 = an element of the list 5, 6, 3 (modulo 7),
so that one has b = c = 1 (mod 6), thus b = 1 (mod 12).
Modulo 9, the powers of 3 are 3 and then 0, and the powers of 5 are 5, 7, 8, 4, 2, 1, so that besides the
solution b = 1 which corresponds to 2 + 3 = 5, one must have b ≥ 2 and c = 5 (mod 6), which contradicts
c = 1 (mod 6), so that this first case only corresponds to the trivial solution.
A posteriori, the choice of 7 and 9 was useful because ϕ(7) = ϕ(9) = 6, and both conditions are obtained
modulo 6, by Fermat’s theorem for 7, and Euler’s theorem for 9.
Case a even, b = a + 2 (mod 4) and c = a (mod 2)
Since b and c are even, one writes b = 2β, c = 2γ (with β, γ ≥ 1), and then one has 2a = 52γ − 32β =
(5 − 3β ) (5γ + 3β ), so that 5γ − 3β divides 2a , and it must be 2α for some α ≤ a − 3 (since 5γ + 3β ≥ 8).
γ

One then has a new solution 2α + 3β = 5γ . If α = 1, one must be in the first case, so that β = γ = 1, and
one had started from 2a + 32 = 52 , i.e. a = 4. If α is even, one repeats the operation until one arrives at
2 + 3 = 5, after passing by the case 24 + 32 = 52 , but one cannot arrive at this case, because one would have
2a = (52 − 32 ) (52 + 32 ), and 52 + 32 = 41 is not a power of 2, so that there are no other solutions.