the 171 moonshine groups

Monstrous moonshine associates to every element of order $n$ of the monster group $\mathbb{M}$ an arithmetic group of the form
(n|h)+e,f,\dots \]
where $h$ is a divisor of $24$ and of $n$ and where $e,f,\dots$ are divisors of $\frac{n}{h}$ coprime with its quotient.

In snakes, spines, and all that we’ve constructed the arithmetic group
\Gamma_0(n|h)+e,f,\dots \]
which normalizes $\Gamma_0(N)$ for $N=h.n$. If $h=1$ then this group is the moonshine group $(n|h)+e,f,\dots$, but for $h > 1$ the moonshine group is a specific subgroup of index $h$ in $\Gamma_0(n|h)+e,f,\dots$.

I’m sure one can describe this subgroup explicitly in each case by analysing the action of the finite group $(\Gamma_0(n|h)+e,f,\dots)/\Gamma_0(N)$ on the $(N|1)$-snake. Some examples were worked out by John Duncan in his paper Arithmetic groups and the affine E8 Dynkin diagram.

But at the moment I don’t understand the general construction given by Conway, McKay and Sebbar in On the discrete groups of moonshine. I’m stuck at the last sentence of (2) in section 3. Nothing a copy of Charles Ferenbaugh Ph. D. thesis cannot fix.

The correspondence between the conjugacy classes of the Monster and these arithmetic groups takes up 3 pages in Conway & Norton’s Monstrous Moonshine. Here’s the beginning of it.

Snakes, spines, threads and all that

Conway introduced his Big Picture to make it easier to understand and name the groups appearing in Monstrous Moonshine.

For $M \in \mathbb{Q}_+$ and $0 \leq \frac{g}{h} < 1$, $M,\frac{g}{h}$ denotes (the projective equivalence class of) the lattice \[ \mathbb{Z} (M \vec{e}_1 + \frac{g}{h} \vec{e}_2) \oplus \mathbb{Z} \vec{e}_2 \] which we also like to represent by the $2 \times 2$ matrix \[ \alpha_{M,\frac{g}{h}} = \begin{bmatrix} M & \frac{g}{h} \\ 0 & 1 \end{bmatrix} \] A subgroup $G$ of $GL_2(\mathbb{Q})$ is said to fix $M,\frac{g}{h}$ if
\alpha_{M,\frac{g}{h}}.G.\alpha_{M,\frac{g}{h}}^{-1} \subset SL_2(\mathbb{Z}) \]
The full group of all elements fixing $M,\frac{g}{h}$ is the conjugate
\alpha_{M,\frac{g}{h}}^{-1}.SL_2(\mathbb{Z}).\alpha_{M,\frac{g}{h}} \]
For a number lattice $N=N,0$ the elements of this group are all of the form
\begin{bmatrix} a & \frac{b}{N} \\ cN & d \end{bmatrix} \qquad \text{with} \qquad \begin{bmatrix} a & b \\ c & d \end{bmatrix} \in SL_2(\mathbb{Z}) \]
and the intersection with $SL_2(\mathbb{Z})$ (which is the group of all elements fixing the lattice $1=1,0$) is the congruence subgroup
\Gamma_0(N) = \{ \begin{bmatrix} a & b \\ cN & d \end{bmatrix}~|~ad-Nbc = 1 \} \]
Conway argues that this is the real way to think of $\Gamma_0(N)$, as the joint stabilizer of the two lattices $N$ and $1$!

The defining definition of 24 tells us that $\Gamma_0(N)$ fixes more lattices. In fact, it fixes exactly the latices $M \frac{g}{h}$ such that
1~|~M~|~\frac{N}{h^2} \quad \text{with} \quad h^2~|~N \quad \text{and} \quad h~|~24 \]
Conway calls the sub-graph of the Big Picture on these lattices the snake of $(N|1)$.

Here’s the $(60|1)$-snake (note that $60=2^2.3.5$ so $h=1$ or $h=2$ and edges corresponding to the prime $2$ are coloured red, those for $3$ green and for $5$ blue).

\xymatrix{& & & 15 \frac{1}{2} \ar@[red]@{-}[dd] & & \\
& & 5 \frac{1}{2} \ar@[red]@{-}[dd] & & & \\
& 15 \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] \ar@[blue]@{-}[dd] & & 30 \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] \ar@[blue]@{-}[dd] & & 60 \ar@[blue]@{-}[dd] \\
5 \ar@[green]@{-}[ru] \ar@[blue]@{-}[dd] \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] & & 10 \ar@[green]@{-}[ru] \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] \ar@[blue]@{-}[dd] & & 20 \ar@[green]@{-}[ru] \ar@[blue]@{-}[dd] & \\
& 3 \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] & & 6 \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] \ar@[red]@{-}[dd] & & 12 \\
1 \ar@[green]@{-}[ru] \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] & & 2 \ar@[green]@{-}[ru] \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] \ar@[red]@{-}[dd] & & 4 \ar@[green]@{-}[ru] & \\
& & & 3\frac{1}{2} & & \\
& & 1 \frac{1}{2} & & &} \]

The sub-graph of lattices fixed by $\Gamma_0(N)$ for $h=1$, that is all number-lattices $M=M,0$ for $M$ a divisor of $N$ is called the thread of $(N|1)$. Here’s the $(60|1)$-thread

& 15 \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] \ar@[blue]@{-}[dd] & & 30 \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] \ar@[blue]@{-}[dd] & & 60 \ar@[blue]@{-}[dd] \\
5 \ar@[green]@{-}[ru] \ar@[blue]@{-}[dd] \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] & & 10 \ar@[green]@{-}[ru] \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] \ar@[blue]@{-}[dd] & & 20 \ar@[green]@{-}[ru] \ar@[blue]@{-}[dd] & \\
& 3 \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] & & 6 \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] & & 12 \\
1 \ar@[green]@{-}[ru] \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] & & 2 \ar@[green]@{-}[ru] \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] & & 4 \ar@[green]@{-}[ru] &
} \]

If $N$ factors as $N = p_1^{e_1} p_2^{e_2} \dots p_k^{e_k}$ then the $(N|1)$-thread is the product of the $(p_i^{e_i}|1)$-threads and has a symmetry group of order $2^k$.

It is generated by $k$ involutions, each one the reflexion in one $(p_i^{e_i}|1)$-thread and the identity on the other $(p_j^{e_j}|1)$-threads.
In the $(60|1)$-thread these are the reflexions in the three mirrors of the figure.

So, there is one involution for every divisor $e$ of $N$ such that $(e,\frac{N}{e})=1$. For such an $e$ there are matrices, with $a,b,c,d \in \mathbb{Z}$, of the form
W_e = \begin{bmatrix} ae & b \\ cN & de \end{bmatrix} \quad \text{with} \quad ade^2-bcN=e \]
Think of Bezout and use that $(e,\frac{N}{e})=1$.

Such $W_e$ normalizes $\Gamma_0(N)$, that is, for any $A \in \Gamma_0(N)$ we have that $W_e.A.W_e^{-1} \in \Gamma_0(N)$. Also, the determinant of $W_e^e$ is equal to $e^2$ so we can write $W_e^2 = e A$ for some $A \in \Gamma_0(N)$.

That is, the transformation $W_e$ (left-multiplication) sends any lattice in the thread or snake of $(N|1)$ to another such lattice (up to projective equivalence) and if we apply $W_e^2$ if fixes each such lattice (again, up to projective equivalence), so it is the desired reflexion corresponding with $e$.

Consider the subgroup of $GL_2(\mathbb{Q})$ generated by $\Gamma_0(N)$ and some of these matrices $W_e,W_f,\dots$ and denote by $\Gamma_0(N)+e,f,\dots$ the quotient modulo positive scalar matrices, then
\Gamma_0(N) \qquad \text{is a normal subgroup of} \qquad \Gamma_0(N)+e,f,\dots \]
with quotient isomorphic to some $(\mathbb{Z}/2\mathbb{Z})^l$ isomorphic to the subgroup generated by the involutions corresponding to $e,f,\dots$.

More generally, consider the $(n|h)$-thread for number lattices $n=n,0$ and $h=h,0$ such that $h | n$ as the sub-graph on all number lattices $l=l,0$ such that $h | l | n$. If we denote with $\Gamma_0(n|h)$ the point-wise stabilizer of $n$ and $h$, then we have that
\Gamma(n|h) = \begin{bmatrix} h & 0 \\ 0 & 1 \end{bmatrix}^{-1}.\Gamma_0(\frac{n}{h}).\begin{bmatrix} h & 0 \\ 0 & 1 \end{bmatrix} \]
and we can then denote with
\Gamma_0(n|h)+e,f,\dots \]
the conjugate of the corresponding group $\Gamma_0(\frac{n}{h})+e,f,\dots$.

If $h$ is the largest divisor of $24$ such that $h^2$ divides $N$, then Conway calls the spine of the $(N|1)$-snake the subgraph on all lattices of the snake whose distance from its periphery is exactly $log(h)$.

For $N=60$, $h=2$ and so the spine of the $(60|1)$-snake is the central piece connected with double black edges

\xymatrix{& & & 15 \frac{1}{2} \ar@[red]@{-}[dd] & & \\
& & 5 \frac{1}{2} \ar@[red]@{-}[dd] & & & \\
& 15 \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] \ar@[blue]@{-}[dd] & & 30 \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] \ar@[black]@{=}[dd] & & 60 \ar@[blue]@{-}[dd] \\
5 \ar@[green]@{-}[ru] \ar@[blue]@{-}[dd] \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] & & 10 \ar@[black]@{=}[ru] \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] \ar@[black]@{=}[dd] & & 20 \ar@[green]@{-}[ru] \ar@[blue]@{-}[dd] & \\
& 3 \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] & & 6 \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] \ar@[red]@{-}[dd] & & 12 \\
1 \ar@[green]@{-}[ru] \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] & & 2 \ar@[black]@{=}[ru] \ar@[red]@{-}[rr] \ar@[red]@{-}[dd] & & 4 \ar@[green]@{-}[ru] & \\
& & & 3\frac{1}{2} & & \\
& & 1 \frac{1}{2} & & &} \]

which is the $(30|2)$-thread.

The upshot of all this is to have a visual proof of the Atkin-Lehner theorem which says that the full normalizer of $\Gamma_0(N)$ is the group $\Gamma_0(\frac{N}{h}|h)+$ (that is, adding all involutions) where $h$ is the largest divisor of $24$ for which $h^2|N$.

Any element of this normalizer must take every lattice in the $(N|1)$-snake fixed by $\Gamma_0(N)$ to another such lattice. Thus it follows that it must take the snake to itself.
Conversely, an element that takes the snake to itself must conjugate into itself the group of all matrices that fix every point of the snake, that is to say, must normalize $\Gamma_0(N)$.

But the elements that take the snake to itself are precisely those that take the spine to itself, and since this spine is just the $(\frac{N}{h}|h)$-thread, this group is just $\Gamma_0(\frac{N}{h}|h)+$.

Reference: J.H. Conway, “Understanding groups like $\Gamma_0(N)$”, in “Groups, Difference Sets, and the Monster”, Walter de Gruyter-Berlin-New York, 1996

The defining property of 24

From Wikipedia on 24:

“$24$ is the only number whose divisors, namely $1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12, 24$, are exactly those numbers $n$ for which every invertible element of the commutative ring $\mathbb{Z}/n\mathbb{Z}$ is a square root of $1$. It follows that the multiplicative group $(\mathbb{Z}/24\mathbb{Z})^* = \{ \pm 1, \pm 5, \pm 7, \pm 11 \}$ is isomorphic to the additive group $(\mathbb{Z}/2\mathbb{Z})^3$. This fact plays a role in monstrous moonshine.”

Where did that come from?

In the original “Monstrous Moonshine” paper by John Conway and Simon Norton, section 3 starts with:

“It is a curious fact that the divisors $h$ of $24$ are precisely those numbers $h$ for which $x.y \equiv 1~(mod~h)$ implies $x \equiv y~(mod~h)$.”

and a bit further they even call this fact:

“our ‘defining property of $24$'”.

The proof is pretty straightforward.

We want all $h$ such that every unit in $\mathbb{Z}/h \mathbb{Z}$ has order two.

By the Chinese remainder theorem we only have to check this for prime powers dividing $h$.

$5$ is a unit of order $4$ in $\mathbb{Z}/16 \mathbb{Z}$.

$2$ is a unit of order $6$ in $\mathbb{Z}/ 9 \mathbb{Z}$.

A generator of the cyclic group $(\mathbb{Z}/p\mathbb{Z})^*$ is a unit of order $p-1 > 2$ in $\mathbb{Z}/p \mathbb{Z}$, for any prime number $p \geq 5$.

This only leaves those $h$ dividing $2^3.3=24$.

But, what does it have to do with monstrous moonshine?

Moonshine assigns to elements of the Monster group $\mathbb{M}$ a specific subgroup of $SL_2(\mathbb{Q})$ containing a cofinite congruence subgroup

\Gamma_0(N) = \{ \begin{bmatrix} a & b \\ cN & d \end{bmatrix}~|~a,b,c,d \in \mathbb{Z}, ad-Nbc = 1 \} \]

for some natural number $N = h.n$ where $n$ is the order of the monster-element, $h^2$ divides $N$ and … $h$ is a divisor of $24$.

To begin to understand how the defining property of $24$ is relevant in this, take any strictly positive rational number $M$ and any pair of coprime natural numbers $g < h$ and associate to $M \frac{g}{h}$ the matrix \[ \alpha_{M\frac{g}{h}} = \begin{bmatrix} M & \frac{g}{h} \\ 0 & 1 \end{bmatrix} \] We say that $\Gamma_0(N)$ fixes $M \frac{g}{h}$ if we have that
\alpha_{M\frac{g}{h}} \Gamma_0(N) \alpha_{M\frac{g}{h}}^{-1} \subset SL_2(\mathbb{Z}) \]

For those in the know, $M \frac{g}{h}$ stands for the $2$-dimensional integral lattice
\mathbb{Z} (M \vec{e}_1 + \frac{g}{h} \vec{e}_2) \oplus \mathbb{Z} \vec{e}_2 \]
and the condition tells that $\Gamma_0(N)$ preserves this lattice under base-change (right-multiplication).

In “Understanding groups like $\Gamma_0(N)$” Conway describes the groups appearing in monstrous moonshine as preserving specific finite sets of these lattices.

For this, it is crucial to determine all $M\frac{g}{h}$ fixed by $\Gamma_0(N)$.

\alpha_{M\frac{g}{h}}.\begin{bmatrix} 1 & 1 \\ 0 & 1 \end{bmatrix}.\alpha_{M\frac{g}{h}}^{-1} = \begin{bmatrix} 1 & M \\ 0 & 1 \end{bmatrix} \]

so we must have that $M$ is a natural number, or that $M\frac{g}{h}$ is a number-like lattice, in Conway-speak.

\alpha_{M\frac{g}{h}}.\begin{bmatrix} 1 & 0 \\ N & 1 \end{bmatrix}.\alpha_{M\frac{g}{h}}^{-1} = \begin{bmatrix} 1 + \frac{Ng}{Mh} & – \frac{Ng^2}{Mh^2} \\ \frac{N}{M} & 1 – \frac{Ng}{Mh} \end{bmatrix} \]

so $M$ divides $N$, $Mh$ divides $Ng$ and $Mh^2$ divides $Ng^2$. As $g$ and $h$ are coprime it follows that $Mh^2$ must divide $N$.

Now, for an arbitrary element of $\Gamma_0(N)$ we have

\alpha_{M\frac{g}{h}}.\begin{bmatrix} a & b \\ cN & d \end{bmatrix}.\alpha_{M\frac{g}{h}}^{-1} = \begin{bmatrix} a + c \frac{Ng}{Mh} & Mb – c \frac{Ng^2}{Mh^2} – (a-d) \frac{g}{h} \\ c \frac{N}{M} & d – c \frac{Ng}{Mh} \end{bmatrix} \]
and using our divisibility requirements it follows that this matrix belongs to $SL_2(\mathbb{Z})$ if $a-d$ is divisible by $h$, that is if $a \equiv d~(mod~h)$.

We know that $ad-Nbc=1$ and that $h$ divides $N$, so $a.d \equiv 1~(mod~h)$, which implies $a \equiv d~(mod~h)$ if $h$ satisfies the defining property of $24$, that is, if $h$ divides $24$.

Concluding, $\Gamma_0(N)$ preserves exactly those lattices $M\frac{g}{h}$ for which
1~|~M~|~\frac{N}{h^2}~\quad~\text{and}~\quad~h~|~24 \]

A first step towards figuring out the Moonshine Picture.

Pariah moonshine and math-writing

Getting mathematics into Nature (the journal) is next to impossible. Ask David Mumford and John Tate about it.

Last month, John Duncan, Michael Mertens and Ken Ono managed to do just that.

Inevitably, they had to suffer through a photoshoot and give their university’s PR-people some soundbites.


In the simplest terms, an elliptic curve is a doughnut shape with carefully placed points, explain Emory University mathematicians Ken Ono, left, and John Duncan, right. “The whole game in the math of elliptic curves is determining whether the doughnut has sprinkles and, if so, where exactly the sprinkles are placed,” Duncan says.


“Imagine you are holding a doughnut in the dark,” Emory University mathematician Ken Ono says. “You wouldn’t even be able to decide whether it has any sprinkles. But the information in our O’Nan moonshine allows us to ‘see’ our mathematical doughnuts clearly by giving us a wealth of information about the points on elliptic curves.”

(Photos by Stephen Nowland, Emory University. See here and here.)

Some may find this kind of sad, or a bad example of over-popularisation.

I think they do a pretty good job of getting the notion of rational points on elliptic curves across.

That’s what the arithmetic of elliptic curves is all about, finding structure in patterns of sprinkles on special doughnuts. And hey, you can get rich and famous if you’re good at it.

Their Nature-paper Pariah moonshine is a must-read for anyone aspiring to write a math-book aiming at a larger audience.

It is an introduction to and a summary of the results they arXived last February O’Nan moonshine and arithmetic.

Update (October 21st)

John Duncan send me this comment via email:

“Strictly speaking the article was published in Nature Communications ( We were also rejected by Nature. But Nature forwarded our submission to Nature Communications, and we had a great experience. Specifically, the review period was very fast (compared to most math journals), and the editors offered very good advice.

My understanding is that Nature Communications is interested in publishing more pure mathematics. If someone reading this has a great mathematical story to tell, I (humbly) recommend to them this option. Perhaps the work of Mumford–Tate would be more agreeably received here.

By the way, our Nature Communications article is open access, available at”

what have quivers done to students?

A few years ago a student entered my office asking suggestions for his master thesis.

“I’m open to any topic as long as it has nothing to do with those silly quivers!”

At that time not the best of opening-lines to address me and, inevitably, the most disastrous teacher-student-conversation-ever followed (also on my part, i’m sorry to say).

This week, Markus Reineke had a similar, though less confrontational, experience. Markus gave a mini-course on ‘moduli spaces of representations’ in our advanced master class. Students loved the way he introduced representation varieties and constructed the space of irreducible representations as a GIT-quotient. In fact, his course was probably the first in that program having an increasing (rather than decreasing) number of students attending throughout the week…

In his third lecture he wanted to illustrate these general constructions and what better concrete example to take than representations of quivers? Result : students’ eyes staring blankly at infinity…

What is it that quivers do to have this effect on students?

Perhaps quiver-representations cause them an information-overload.

Perhaps we should take plenty of time to explain that in going from the quiver (the directed graph) to the path algebra, vertices become idempotents and arrows the remaining generators. These idempotents split a representation space into smaller vertex-spaces, the dimensions of which we collect in a dimension-vector, the big basechange group splits therefore into a product of small vertex-basechanges and the action of this product on an matrix corresponding to an arrow is merely usual conjugation by the big basechange-group, etc. etc. Blatant trivialities to someone breathing quivers, but probably we too had to take plenty of time once to disentangle this information-package…

But then, perhaps they consider quivers and their representations as too-concrete-old-math-stuff, when there’s so much high-profile-fancy-math still left to taste.

When given the option, students prefer you to tell them monstrous-moonshine stories even though they can barely prove simplicity of $A_5$, they want you to give them a short-cut to the Langlands programme but have never had the patience nor the interest to investigate the splitting of primes in quadratic number fields, they want to be taught schemes and their structure sheaves when they still struggle with the notion of a dominant map between varieties…

In short, students often like to run before they can crawl.

Working through the classification of some simple quiver-settings would force their agile feet firmly on the ground. They probably experience this as a waste of time.

Perhaps, it is time to promote slow math…

mathblogging and poll-results is a recent initiative and may well become the default starting place to check on the status of the mathematical blogosphere.

Handy, if you want to (re)populate your RSS-aggregator with interesting mathematical blogs, is their graphical presentation of (nearly) all math-blogs ordered by type : group blogs, individual researchers, teachers and educators, journalistic writers, communities, institutions and microblogging (twitter). Links to the last 7 posts are given so you can easily determine whether that particular blog is of interest to you.

The three people behind the project, Felix Breuer, Frederik von Heymann and Peter Krautzberger, welcome you to send them links to (micro)blogs they’ve missed. Surely, there must be a lot more mathematicians with a twitter-account than the few ones listed so far…

Even more convenient is their list of latest posts from their collection, ordered by date. I’ve put that page in my Bookmarks Bar the moment I discovered it! It would be nice, if they could provide an RSS-feed of this list, so that people could place it in their sidebar, replacing old-fashioned and useless blogrolls. The site does provide two feeds, but they are completely useless as they click through to empty pages…

While we’re on the topic of math-blogging, the results of the ‘What should we write about next?’-poll that ran the previous two days on the entry page. Of all people visiting that page, 2.6% left suggestions.

The vast majority (67%) wants more posts on noncommutative geometry. Most of you are craving for introductions (and motivation) accessible to undergraduates (as ‘it’s hard to find quality, updated information on this’). In particular, you want posts giving applications in mathematics (especially number theory), or explaining relationships between different approaches. One person knew exactly how I should go about to achieve the hoped-for accessibility : “As a rule, I’d take what you think would be just right for undergrads, and then trim it down a little more.”

Others want rather specialized posts, such as on ‘connection and parallel transport in noncommutative geometry’ or on ‘trees (per J-L. Loday, M. Aguiar, Connes/Kreimer renormalization (aka Butcher group)), or something completely other tree-related’.

Fortunately, some of you told me it was fine to write about ‘combinatorial games and cool nim stuff, finite simple groups, mathematical history, number theory, arithmetic geometry’, pushed me to go for ‘anything monstrous and moonshiney’ (as if I would know the secrets of the ‘connection between the Mathieu group M24 and the elliptic genus of K3’…) or wrote that ‘various algebraic geometry related posts are always welcome: posts like Mumford’s treasure map‘.