In differential topology, an exotic sphere is a differentiable manifold ''M'' that is homeomorphic but not diffeomorphic to the standard Euclidean ''n''-sphere. That is, ''M'' is a sphere from the point of view of all its topological properties, but carrying a smooth structure that is not the familiar one (hence the name "exotic"). The first exotic spheres were constructed by in dimension n = 7 as S^3-bundles over S^4. He showed that there are at least 7 differentiable structures on the 7-sphere. In any dimension showed that the diffeomorphism classes of oriented exotic spheres form the non-trivial elements of an abelian monoid under connected sum, which is a finite abelian group if the dimension is not 4. The classification of exotic spheres by showed that the oriented exotic 7-spheres are the non-trivial elements of a cyclic group of order 28 under the operation of connected sum.


The unit ''n''-sphere, S^n, is the set of all (''n''+1)-tuples (x_1, x_2, \ldots , x_) of real numbers, such that the sum x_1^2 + x_2^2 + \cdots + x_^2 = 1. For instance, S^1 is a circle, while S^2 is the surface of an ordinary ball of radius one in 3 dimensions. Topologists consider a space, ''X'', to be an ''n''-sphere if every point in ''X'' can be assigned to exactly one point in the unit ''n''-sphere in a continuous way, which means that sufficiently nearby points in ''X'' get assigned to nearby points in S^n and vice versa. For example, a point ''x'' on an ''n''-sphere of radius ''r'' can be matched with a point on the unit ''n''-sphere by adjusting its distance from the origin by 1/r. In differential topology, a more stringent condition is added, that the functions matching points in ''X'' with points in S^n should be smooth, that is they should have derivatives of all orders everywhere. To calculate derivatives, one needs to have local coordinate systems defined consistently in ''X''. Mathematicians were surprised in 1956 when Milnor showed that consistent coordinate systems could be set up on the 7-sphere in two different ways that were equivalent in the continuous sense, but not in the differentiable sense. Milnor and others set about trying to discover how many such exotic spheres could exist in each dimension and to understand how they relate to each other. No exotic structures are possible on the 1-, 2-, 3-, 5-, 6-, 12-, 56- or 61-spheres. Some higher-dimensional spheres have only two possible differentiable structures, others have thousands. Whether exotic 4-spheres exist, and if so how many, is an unsolved problem.


The monoid of smooth structures on ''n''-spheres is the collection of oriented smooth ''n''-manifolds which are homeomorphic to the ''n''-sphere, taken up to orientation-preserving diffeomorphism. The monoid operation is the connected sum. Provided n\ne 4, this monoid is a group and is isomorphic to the group \Theta_n of ''h''-cobordism classes of oriented homotopy ''n''-spheres, which is finite and abelian. In dimension 4 almost nothing is known about the monoid of smooth spheres, beyond the facts that it is finite or countably infinite, and abelian, though it is suspected to be infinite; see the section on Gluck twists. All homotopy ''n''-spheres are homeomorphic to the ''n''-sphere by the generalized Poincaré conjecture, proved by Stephen Smale in dimensions bigger than 4, Michael Freedman in dimension 4, and Grigori Perelman in dimension 3. In dimension 3, Edwin E. Moise proved that every topological manifold has an essentially unique smooth structure (see Moise's theorem), so the monoid of smooth structures on the 3-sphere is trivial.

Parallelizable manifolds

The group \Theta_n has a cyclic subgroup :bP_ represented by ''n''-spheres that bound parallelizable manifolds. The structures of bP_ and the quotient :\Theta_n/bP_ are described separately in the paper , which was influential in the development of surgery theory. In fact, these calculations can be formulated in a modern language in terms of the surgery exact sequence as indicated here. The group bP_ is a cyclic group, and is trivial or order 2 except in case n = 4k+3, in which case it can be large, with its order related to the Bernoulli numbers. It is trivial if ''n'' is even. If ''n'' is 1 mod 4 it has order 1 or 2; in particular it has order 1 if ''n'' is 1, 5, 13, 29, or 61, and proved that it has order 2 if n = 1 mod 4 is not of the form 2^k - 3. It follows from the now almost completely resolved Kervaire invariant problem that it has order 2 for all ''n'' bigger than 126; the case n = 126 is still open. The order of bP_ for k\ge 2 is :2^(2^-1)B, where ''B'' is the numerator of 4B_/k, and B_ is a Bernoulli number. (The formula in the topological literature differs slightly because topologists use a different convention for naming Bernoulli numbers; this article uses the number theorists' convention.)

Map between quotients

The quotient group \Theta_n/bP_ has a description in terms of stable homotopy groups of spheres modulo the image of the J-homomorphism; it is either equal to the quotient or index 2. More precisely there is an injective map :\Theta_n/bP_\to \pi_n^S/J, where \pi_n^S is the ''n''th stable homotopy group of spheres, and ''J'' is the image of the ''J''-homomorphism. As with bP_, the image of ''J'' is a cyclic group, and is trivial or order 2 except in case n = 4k+3, in which case it can be large, with its order related to the Bernoulli numbers. The quotient group \pi_n^S/J is the "hard" part of the stable homotopy groups of spheres, and accordingly \Theta_n/bP_ is the hard part of the exotic spheres, but almost completely reduces to computing homotopy groups of spheres. The map is either an isomorphism (the image is the whole group), or an injective map with index 2. The latter is the case if and only if there exists an ''n''-dimensional framed manifold with Kervaire invariant 1, which is known as the Kervaire invariant problem. Thus a factor of 2 in the classification of exotic spheres depends on the Kervaire invariant problem. , the Kervaire invariant problem is almost completely solved, with only the case n=126 remaining open; see that article for details. This is primarily the work of , which proved that such manifolds only existed in dimension n=2^j-2, and , which proved that there were no such manifolds for dimension 254=2^8-2 and above. Manifolds with Kervaire invariant 1 have been constructed in dimension 2, 6, 14, 30, and 62, but dimension 126 is open, with no manifold being either constructed or disproven.

Order of \Theta_n

The order of the group \Theta_n is given in this table from (except that the entry for n = 19 is wrong by a factor of 2 in their paper; see the correction in volume III p. 97 of Milnor's collected works). : Note that for dim ''n'' = 4''k'' − 1, then Θ''n'' are 28 = 22(23 − 1), 992 = 25(25 − 1), 16256 = 27(27 − 1), and 523264 = 210(29 − 1). Further entries in this table can be computed from the information above together with the table of stable homotopy groups of spheres. By computations of stable homotopy groups of spheres, proves that the sphere has a unique smooth structure, and it is the last odd dimensional one – the only ones are , , , and .

Explicit examples of exotic spheres

Milnor's construction

One of the first examples of an exotic sphere found by was the following. Let ''B''4 be the unit ball in \R^4, and let S^3 be its boundary—a 3-sphere which we identify with the group of unit quaternions. Now take two copies of B^4 \times S^3, each with boundary S^3 \times S^3, and glue them together by identifying (a,b) in the first boundary with (a,a^2ba^) in the second boundary. The resulting manifold has a natural smooth structure and is homeomorphic to S^7, but is not diffeomorphic to S^7. Milnor showed that it is not the boundary of any smooth 8-manifold with vanishing 4th Betti number, and has no orientation-reversing diffeomorphism to itself; either of these properties implies that it is not a standard 7-sphere. Milnor showed that this manifold has a Morse function with just two critical points, both non-degenerate, which implies that it is topologically a sphere.

Brieskorn spheres

As shown by (see also ) the intersection of the complex manifold of points in \Complex^5 satisfying :a^2 + b^2 + c^2 + d^3 + e^ = 0\ with a small sphere around the origin for k = 1, 2, \ldots, 28 gives all 28 possible smooth structures on the oriented 7-sphere. Similar manifolds are called Brieskorn spheres.

Twisted spheres

Given an (orientation-preserving) diffeomorphism f\colon S^ \to S^, gluing the boundaries of two copies of the standard disk D^n together by ''f'' yields a manifold called a ''twisted sphere'' (with ''twist'' ''f''). It is homotopy equivalent to the standard ''n''-sphere because the gluing map is homotopic to the identity (being an orientation-preserving diffeomorphism, hence degree 1), but not in general diffeomorphic to the standard sphere. Setting \Gamma_n to be the group of twisted ''n''-spheres (under connect sum), one obtains the exact sequence :\pi_0\operatorname^+(D^n) \to \pi_0\operatorname^+(S^) \to \Gamma_n \to 0. For n>5, every exotic ''n''-sphere is diffeomorphic to a twisted sphere, a result proven by Stephen Smale which can be seen as a consequence of the ''h''-cobordism theorem. (In contrast, in the piecewise linear setting the left-most map is onto via radial extension: every piecewise-linear-twisted sphere is standard.) The group \Gamma_n of twisted spheres is always isomorphic to the group \Theta_n. The notations are different because it was not known at first that they were the same for n = 3 or 4; for example, the case n = 3 is equivalent to the Poincaré conjecture. In 1970 Jean Cerf proved the pseudoisotopy theorem which implies that \pi_0 \operatorname^+(D^n) is the trivial group provided n \geq 6, and so \Gamma_n \simeq \pi_0 \operatorname^+(S^) provided n \geq 6.


If ''M'' is a piecewise linear manifold then the problem of finding the compatible smooth structures on ''M'' depends on knowledge of the groups . More precisely, the obstructions to the existence of any smooth structure lie in the groups for various values of ''k'', while if such a smooth structure exists then all such smooth structures can be classified using the groups . In particular the groups Γ''k'' vanish if , so all PL manifolds of dimension at most 7 have a smooth structure, which is essentially unique if the manifold has dimension at most 6. The following finite abelian groups are essentially the same: *The group Θ''n'' of h-cobordism classes of oriented homotopy ''n''-spheres. *The group of h-cobordism classes of oriented ''n''-spheres. *The group Γ''n'' of twisted oriented ''n''-spheres. *The homotopy group π''n''(PL/DIFF) *If , the homotopy π''n''(TOP/DIFF) (if this group has order 2; see Kirby–Siebenmann invariant). *The group of smooth structures of an oriented PL ''n''-sphere. *If , the group of smooth structures of an oriented topological ''n''-sphere. *If , the group of components of the group of all orientation-preserving diffeomorphisms of ''S''''n''−1.

4-dimensional exotic spheres and Gluck twists

In 4 dimensions it is not known whether there are any exotic smooth structures on the 4-sphere. The statement that they do not exist is known as the "smooth Poincaré conjecture", and is discussed by who say that it is believed to be false. Some candidates proposed for exotic 4-spheres are the Cappell–Shaneson spheres () and those derived by Gluck twists . Gluck twist spheres are constructed by cutting out a tubular neighborhood of a 2-sphere ''S'' in ''S''4 and gluing it back in using a diffeomorphism of its boundary ''S''2×''S''1. The result is always homeomorphic to ''S''4. Many cases over the years were ruled out as possible counterexamples to the smooth 4 dimensional Poincaré conjecture. For example, , , , , , , , .

See also

*Atlas (topology) *Clutching construction *Exotic R4 *Cerf theory *Seven-dimensional space


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * This book describes Brieskorn's work relating exotic spheres to singularities of complex manifolds. * – This paper describes the structure of the group of smooth structures on an ''n''-sphere for ''n'' > 4. Sadly, the promised paper "Groups of Homotopy Spheres: II" never appeared, but Levine's lecture notes contain the material which it might have been expected to contain. * * * * * *. * * * *. * . *{{springer|title=Milnor sphere|id=M/m063800|first=Yuli B.| last=Rudyak

External links

Exotic spheres
on the Manifold Atlas

on the home page of Andrew Ranicki. Assorted source material relating to exotic spheres.

Video from a presentation b
Niles Johnson
at th
Second Abel conference
in honor of John Milnor.
The Gluck construction
on the Manifold Atlas Category:Differential topology Category:Differential structures Category:Surgery theory Category:Spheres