Nonabelian level structures, Nielsen equivalence, and Markoff triples

Abstract

In this paper we establish a congruence on the degree of the map from a component of a Hurwitz space of covers of elliptic curves to the moduli stack of elliptic curves. Combinatorially, this can be expressed as a congruence on the cardinalities of Nielsen equivalence classes of generating pairs of finite groups. Building on the work of Bourgain, Gamburd, and Sarnak, we apply this congruence to show that for all but finitely many primes $p$, the group of Markoff automorphisms acts transitively on the nonzero $\mathbb{F}_p$-points of the Markoff equation $x^2+y^2+z^2-3xyz = 0$. This yields a strong approximation property for the Markoff equation, the finiteness of congruence conditons satisfied by Markoff numbers, and the connectivity of a certain infinite family of Hurwitz spaces of $\mathrm{SL}_2(\mathbb{F}_2)$-covers of elliptic curves. With possibly finitely many exceptions, this resolves a conjecture of Bourgain, Gamburd, and Sarnak, first posted by Baragar in 1991, and a question of Frobenius, posted in 1913. Since their methods are effective, this reduces the conjecture to a finite computation.

Authors

William Chen

School of Mathematics, Institute for Advanced Study, 1 Einstein Drive, Princeton, NJ

Current address:

Department of Mathematics, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ