In the long process that resulted in the classification of finite simple groups, some of the exceptional groups were only shown to exist after people had computed (most of) their character tables and other such precise information which usually can only be attached to things that exist. Maybe someone familiar with the details can tell me/us:

Was there at some point a finite simple group conjectured to exist that turned out not to exist in the end?

If so, this part of the story is much less told than the successful part! It would be interesting to know if for such a non-existent group, say, the character table was computed, and so on...

I am asking because I just read this question on Math.SE and it reminded me I have always wanted to know this.

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    $\begingroup$ A natural follow-up question, of course, is if, say, the character table of that group which did not exist is the character group of something else. $\endgroup$ Dec 7, 2012 at 19:11
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    $\begingroup$ I really prefer for answerers to be rewarded for their effort :-) $\endgroup$ Dec 7, 2012 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ @36min: The $p^aq^b$ theorem is due to Burnside, not Frobenius... $\endgroup$ Dec 7, 2012 at 20:45
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    $\begingroup$ The Illuminati. $\endgroup$
    – Will Jagy
    Dec 7, 2012 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ We have managed to convince you that we do not exist Will, good. ... Hmm. Oops. $\endgroup$ Dec 7, 2012 at 21:01

4 Answers 4


There was a point during the history of the Classification when pursuers of sporadic groups distinguished the Baby Monster, the Middle Monster and the Super Monster. The first two actually turned out to exist (though the word "Middle" was dropped), but the third turned out to be a dud.

http://www.neverendingbooks.org/index.php/tag/simples/page/2 has an account of this.

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    $\begingroup$ Good example. I believe that it's the Middle Monster that failed to exist. According to Wikipedia, the automorphism group of Fi$_{22}$ centralizes an element of order 3 in the baby monster, and there's a triple cover of Fi$_{24}$ that centralizes an element of order 3 in (what is now called) the monster. There is no analogous fact for Fi$_{23}$. $\endgroup$ Dec 8, 2012 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ The permalink would be neverendingbooks.org/index.php/… $\endgroup$ Dec 8, 2012 at 22:23
  • $\begingroup$ Ah! This is exactly what I wanted. Does the non-existent one exist in a non-groupy way, perchance? $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2012 at 2:06
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    $\begingroup$ It seems I remembered correctly. books.google.com/… $\endgroup$ May 18, 2015 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ Links are dead. $\endgroup$ Nov 5, 2017 at 5:07

I'm not sure if this is quite what you're looking for but....

In this book "Finite simple groups", Gorenstein tells the story of Feit & Thompson's proof of the odd order theorem. Very roughly, it goes as follows:

Suppose $G$ is a simple group of odd order. Thompson studied the local structure of the group $G$ to obtain information about the structure of the maximal subgroups of $G$. Feit then applied the Brauer-Suzuki theory of exceptional characters to derive a great deal of character-theoretic information about the group $G$. So far so good.

But now they hit a problem. They were seeking, of course, to demonstrate a contradiction. But, as Gorenstein tells it, one of the possible configurations of maximal subgroups & character information proved extremely difficult to disprove. In the spirit of this question, one might say they found an example of a "group that does not exist". In the end, after spending a year being stuck, Thompson managed to demonstrate the required contradiction by a very delicate analysis of the generators and relations of the putative group $G$.

(I don't have a copy of Gorenstein's book with me. If I get chance I might return to this answer so I can provide some quotes. Gorenstein's account of the whole enterprise is really terrific.)

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    $\begingroup$ Yes `the conjectured to exist' part of your question made me wonder if the FT-theorem was relevant. Still, as Gorenstein tells it, there is a real sense that something awfully like a group was lurking in that final configuration... Maybe a group that wanted to exist but didn't know how :-) $\endgroup$
    – Nick Gill
    Dec 7, 2012 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ On p. 212 of Dummit & Foote (3rd ed.), the possibility of a finite simple group of order $3^3 \cdot 7 \cdot 13 \cdot 409$ is discussed, with a certain amount of consistent data for such a group being obtained, but ultimately there can't be such a group since there are no simple groups of odd order. $\endgroup$
    – KConrad
    Dec 7, 2012 at 23:20
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    $\begingroup$ I'm quite sure I can construct an infinite sequence of simple groups of odd order... $\endgroup$ Dec 8, 2012 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ It's common practice among group theorists to omit the locution "except for cyclic groups of prime order" for brevity, understanding that the listener will insert it wherever it is necessary. $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2012 at 0:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Timothy: I assumed as much, although simply inserting "nonabelian" in the appropriate place strikes me as a better compromise. $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2012 at 20:18

I tried to write a longer answer which froze, so I'll write a shorter version. You might look at the history of the "Solomon fusion system" which arose in a characterization problem undertaken by Ron Solomon in his work on the classification of finite simple groups. This does not occur in a finite group, but was shown by Dave Benson to occur in a group like topological object ( "2-adic loop space") called BDI(4).

In some sense this led to work by topologists (especially Broto, Levi and Oliver) on "$p$-local finite groups" (actually topological spaces, not groups) which need to associate a linking system to a fusion system of a finite $p$-group. Aschbacher and Chermak showed in an Annals paper a few years ago that the Solomon fusion system does have an associated linking system, an therefore there is a $2$-local finite group associated to that fusion system. More recently, Chermak has shown that there is a $p$-local finite group associated to every saturated fusion system on a finite $p$-group.

  • $\begingroup$ I'll look this up. Thanks! This sounds like right what had in mind :-) $\endgroup$ Dec 8, 2012 at 14:28

I believe that at some point there was a conjecture (by whom, I don't recall) that Janko's smallest group, of order $175,560=11(11^2-1)(11^3-1)/(11-1)$, should be the first of an infinite sequence of finite simple groups with a Lie-type group-order formula. Such groups turned out not to exist.

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    $\begingroup$ How about $4^4*(4+1)*(4^2-1)*(4^3-1)$ for size of $2.J_2$ ? The $J_1$ embeds in $G_2(11)$ and $J_2$ embeds in $G_2(4)$ thats why I used number $4$. $\endgroup$
    – user21230
    Sep 19, 2018 at 13:32
  • $\begingroup$ That's cute, too. $\endgroup$ Sep 20, 2018 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ $J_3$ has order $2^7(2^9+1)(2^8-1)(2^2-1)$. Are these just coincidences or is there anything going on in here? $\endgroup$
    – spin
    Sep 21, 2018 at 7:36
  • $\begingroup$ @spin this resembles moonshine... $\endgroup$ Apr 3, 2019 at 17:22

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