In this post, in advance of a talk I am giving tomorrow as part of the Harvard Mazur Torsion seminar we shall give an overview of Mazur and Tate’s proof that there are no elliptic curves / with a rational 13-torsion point. [WARNING: I apologise that this post is probably currently littered with mistakes, and certainly with abuses of notation, having been written fairly hastily. I will try to come back and make it better later.]

The theory of modular curves had been well-developed at the time of the paper, so there is a smooth affine curve over out there called whose rational points are precisely isomorphism classes of elliptic curves over together with a rational point of order 13. The problem is therefore reduced to proving some curve has no rational points. It turns out to be nicer to work with the compactification , which has 12 extra points (`cusps’), six of which are rational.

For quite a few numbers that aren’t 13, one is rather lucky and finds that either is an elliptic curve (so write down its equation, do 2-descent to show it has rank 0, and work out that all the rational points are cusps) or more likely one finds that some other closely related curve like or a quotient of this by an Atkin-Lehner involution is an elliptic curve of rank 0, and thinking about fibres of maps like can again find all the rational points.

However, 13 is unlucky for some, and indeed it is unlucky for us. The curve we are interested in has genus 2, but the only logical thing to map it to, , has genus 0 and a rational point, hence loads of rational points. We must therefore attack the curve directly in some way.

One natural thing to do is to consider its Jacobian , a 2-dimensional abelian variety whose geometric points correspond to elements of the 0-Picard group of . In particular it is equipped with, for any choice of rational cusp, an embedding defined over given by . In particular, if we can show that the Jacobian has Mordell-Weil rank zero and analyse its rational torsion we’ll be done.

The first progress here was made by Ogg, who took one of the other rational cusps and discovered that it was a torsion point of order 19, and the subgroup it generates intersects the curve precisely at the rational cusps. Given our initial bad luck, this is nothing short of a miracle! Since and hence has good reduction at 2, the Riemann hypothesis tells us that , so after Ogg’s work, we know that the only thing left to rule out is a point of infinite order in .

If you have an elliptic curve, the standard trick for computing its Mordell-Weil rank is to take your favourite isogeny (usually one whose kernel is a well-understood Galois module) and analyse the cokernel of the map by interpreting it as a subgroup of the first Galois cohomology group . There is no reason this shouldn’t work for abelian varieties, but finding an isogeny whose kernel we can understand is somewhat harder: for elliptic curves the multiplication by 2 map will usually do nicely, because the 2-torsion can be read off from an equation in Weierstrass form, but we have no such trick here.

What we do have here however are a bewildering family of interesting automorphisms of . In particular, we have the *diamond operators* (for ), and the *Atkin-Lehner involutions* which map to the pair where is some 13-torsion point of such that it pairs with under the Weil pairing to give . The Galois group commutes with the former and acts on the latter in the obvious way (). These operators generate a subgroup isomorphic to the dihedral group, and with the noted Galois action they satisfy .

Of great interest to us is the subring . One can easily verify that acts with order 6 on the cusps of , and since is simple (there aren’t many elliptic curves with good reduction at 2 and a 19-torsion point) one deduces that , i.e. it’s the Eisenstein integers, a rather nice quadratic PID. We also have a rational subgroup , so it’s natural to consider trying to find a 19-isogeny, and we now have one staring us in the face: factors into two distinct primes in , giving an idempotent decomposition

Relabelling as necessary we may assume . One can then show that any Atkin-Lehner involution swaps these two eigenspaces and maps onto a subset with a faithful action of . Moreover, by considering the action on the Weil pairing one shows that the self-duality of (all Jacobians admit a principal polarisation) induces a Cartier duality between and , and so one ends up with a short exact sequence of -modules:

We are now in good shape to attempt a -descent. We already know the Mordell-Weil theorem for abelian varieties, so is a finitely generated -module, in particular a finitely generated -module. Since this is a PID, the structure theorem tells us that if we can show is *surjective*, then it has rank 0. We will therefore want to consider some kind of Galois cohomology which will give us a small (our dream would be if this could vanish, but that’s maybe rather unrealistic).

Recall that Galois cohomology is just the étale cohomology of abelian sheaves on the spectrum of a field. If instead of allowing our sections to only be defined on a field (an `arithmetic point’) we spread them out across something like , it figures that maybe the cohomology groups will get smaller. However, we must be careful: we are being led to study the cohomology of 19-primary finite flat group schemes over a base where 19 is not invertible. In particular, we will later need a Kummer exact sequence to analyse , and this fails to be exact as a sequence of étale sheaves. The solution is instead to consider the fppf topology which is finer than the étale topology but still coarser than the fpqc topology (so all schemes are fppf sheaves).

Let’s do that. Recall that was defined over so we get a naturally defined exact sequence

which can be viewed as a sequence of fppf sheaves on . Taking global sections, we get a long exact sequence containing a chunk:

where the first map is the one we wish to show is surjective.

We secretly know, as with 2-descent, that all the juicy stuff (say, the data in the image of the second map) probably happens at the bad primes, which in this case is just the prime 13. It’s therefore maybe natural to base change to and analyse the situation there.

In fact, the situation there is rather nice: it’s not too hard to prove that is in fact an isomorphism. By taking a Neron model (best possible smooth – *but not necessarily proper* – group scheme whose generic fibre returns ) for , in particular with . We can take the reduction, and notice that acts invertibly on the (pro-13) kernel of reduction, so by the snake lemma it suffices to check that is injective: in other words, that there are no nontrivial -invariants of . Given our explicit description of this Galois module, this boils down to the fact that doesn’t split completely in (it’s totally ramified) or ().

How do we transfer this information back up to ? Well, if we can prove that is *injective* then that will be enough (draw a diagram, and note that by what we just showed is the zero map). At this point it seems worthwhile to want to reconstruct our explicit description of and verify that this map is injective on each piece. I.e. recall we proved earlier that the generic fibre of is an extension of a module which becomes the trivial over by the Galois module . But by a general theorem in a paper by Oort and Tate concerning finite flat group schemes, since 19 isn’t very ramified in , we can identify 19-primary finite flat group schemes by their generic fibre. So taking the Zariski closure, we get a short exact sequence

where is some finite flat group scheme whose base change to is isomorphic to the constant group scheme .

So we now are reduced to showing that the induced maps on the first cohomology of these pieces when we base change to are injective. Firstly, in fact we can show that . A nonzero element of this group is a nontrivial -torsor on , which under base change corresponds to a nontrivial -torsor on . But the class number of has been computed and is in fact 1, so in particular this field doesn’t admit any nontrivial degree 19 covers unramified away from 13.

Finally, we must prove that is injective. Since we had the foresight to use fppf cohomology, we get the Kummer exact sequence

Taking the long exact sequence of cohomology, and noting that both of these rings are PIDs, so have trivial picard group ( by a generalisation of Hilbert 90), we get isomorphisms of these cohomology groups with , which one can check explicitly have an induced injection.

And that’s it, we read off that our original was surjective, and so we’re done: there are no -torsion points of order 13 on elliptic curves over .

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