Does the quadratic form $x^2 - 7y^2$ represent infinitely many primes, with the restriction that $0 < y < x/10$?

Surely yes, and in more generality, but can it be proved?

It seems that most, if not all, statements about quadratic forms representing primes fall back on algebraic number theory (i.e. splitting of primes in $\mathbb{Q}(\sqrt{7})$) for their proofs, and so are incompatible with the condition that $0 < y < x/10$.

Some related references which didn't lead to a proof: First of all there is this previous MO post, which suggests a negative answer.

There is also this paper of Iwaniec, which uses sieve methods but which also uses the multiplicative structure of solutions to the quadratic form.

There is also the interesting Theorem 5.36 of Iwaniec and Kowalski, which states that the arguments of prime elements of $\mathbb{Z}[i]$ are equidistributed in $(0, 2\pi)$. This is proved using the Hecke $L$-function $\sum_{\alpha \in \mathbb{Z}[i]} \big( \frac{\alpha}{|\alpha|} \big)^{ik} |\alpha|^{-s}$, for all $k$ divisible by 4. This generalizes further, but presumably not to real quadratic fields, where the infinite unit group would foul the construction up.

Finally, using a straight-up sieve (with only the additive structure of solutions to $x^2 - 7 y^2$) seems hopeless, as sieves tend to be bad at finding primes. There is the recent work of Friedlander-Iwaniec on $x^2 + y^4$ and Heath-Brown on $x^3 + 2y^3$, but these use algebraic number theory in $\mathbb{Q}(i)$ and $\mathbb{Q}(\sqrt{-3})$, and seem unlikely to generalize here.

I wonder if there is a promising approach out there which I have overlooked? Thank you!

• Regarding "It seems that most, if not all, statements about quadratic forms representing primes fall back on algebraic number theory (i.e. splitting of primes in Q(7√)) for their proofs, and so are incompatible with the condition and so are incompatible with the condition that 0<y<x/10." This isn't obviously true, for example see "On the relative sizes of A and B in p=A²+B², where p is a prime=1(mod 4)" math.carleton.ca/~williams/papers/pdf/237.pdf I guess Daniel Litt's comment is in similar spirit. May 15 '11 at 21:36
• Quibble: Heath-Brown's prime-capturing polynomials is $x^3+2y^3$, not $x^3+y^3$ which is reducible and hence won't take prime values. May 15 '11 at 22:06
• I'm not sure of the details, but a reference for this might be in Lang, Algebraic number theory, Chap. XV, see Example 3 at the end of the chapter, in which equiditribution of Gaussian primes is (in some sense) generalized to the case of number fields with class number 1. May 16 '11 at 13:05
• I guess we were not very careful there with precise attributions for fairly classical things, but let's make it clear that Th. 5.36 in my book with Iwaniec is a theorem at least as old as Hecke (very probably due to him, but I haven't actually checked the history.) May 16 '11 at 21:34
• @Emmanuel : On the other hand, I'm happy that you and Iwaniec have included this result in your book, because this theorem deserves to be known more widely. I was once interested in the distribution of rational points on the unit circle and I had a hard time finding references, until I found it in Lang... May 17 '11 at 5:37

The units of $k=\mathbf{Q}(\sqrt{7})$ have the form $\pm (8+3 \sqrt{7})^n$ with $n \in \mathbf{Z}$. If $\pi = x+y\sqrt{7}$ is a prime element of $k$, then $\lambda(\pi):= \log |x+y\sqrt{7}|$ is well-defined in $\mathbf{R}/\alpha \mathbf{Z}$ where $\alpha = \log(8+3\sqrt{7})$. Note that $\lambda$ factors as $\lambda = f \circ \sigma$ where $\sigma : k^{\times} \to \mathbf{R}^{\times}$ is a given embedding of $k$ and $f : \mathbf{R}^{\times} \to \mathbf{R}/\alpha \mathbf{Z}$ is a continuous group homomorphism. We can apply Hecke's theory of equidistribution (see Lang, Algebraic number theory, Chap. XV, especially Example 3 at the end of the chapter) to show that the sequence $\lambda(\pi)$ is equidistributed in $\mathbf{R}/\alpha \mathbf{Z}$ where $\pi$ runs through the primes of $k$ (with respect to the usual ordering on the norm of $\pi$).

You want $0 < y < x/10$ which translates into the inequality

\begin{equation*} \sqrt{p} \leq x+y\sqrt{7} \leq C \sqrt{p} \end{equation*} where $C=\frac{10+\sqrt{7}}{\sqrt{93}}>1$ and $p=N_{k/\mathbf{Q}}(x+y\sqrt{7})$. This in turn is equivalent to $\lambda(\pi) \in [\frac12 \log p , \frac12 \log p + \log C]$ inside $\mathbf{R}/\alpha \mathbf{Z}$.

Using the equidistribution result above, the set $X=\{\pi : \lambda(\pi) \in [0,\frac12 \log C]\}$ has a positive natural density (here we consider only primes of $k$ which don't belong to $\mathbf{Q}$, but this is ok because the norm of a rational prime $p$ is equal to $p^2$, so these rational primes are negligible). Moreover, the set $Y=\{\frac12 \log p : \pi \in X\}$ is dense in $\mathbf{R}/\alpha \mathbf{Z}$ because of the prime number theorem. So we can find infinitely many primes $\pi \in X$ with $\frac12 \log p \in [-\frac12 \log C,0]$ inside $\mathbf{R}/\alpha \mathbf{Z}$, which implies what you want using the above discussion.

• I hope someone will triple-check this, because somehow it feels too good to be true, but this is stupendous! Thank you. May 16 '11 at 20:28
• One thing from Lang's book that might be added: The Lang/Hecke argument relies on a Hecke $L$-function, and the Hecke character (where $\pi$ is a prime of $k = \mathbb{Q}(\sqrt{7})$) is given by $\chi(\pi) = |\pi|^{2 \pi i/\log \alpha}$. This is rigged to be trivial on units, hence it gives a character on ideals or on the idele class group. Now $L(s, \chi)$ is a nontrivial Hecke $L$-function, hence holomorphic at $s = 1$, and hence you get equidistribution. May 16 '11 at 20:34
• @Frank : Yes, of course I should have said that the real heart of the proof lies in the study of the Hecke L-function. May 17 '11 at 5:45
• @Frank: I think you need the holomorphicity of all $L(s,\chi^k)$ with $k\in\mathbb{Z}$ at $s=1$. May 18 '11 at 16:28
• @GH: Yes indeed. May 19 '11 at 16:48

It is true, with the same proof as Iwaniec-Kowalski. Real or complex, the generators of principal primes are equidistributed modulo units. There just happen to be no units in the complex case.

• I don't see how to write down a convergent Hecke $L$-series which corresponds to that in I-K. Would you please elaborate? May 16 '11 at 3:46
• @anonymous: I don't buy this. Hecke characters in the real quadratic case don't seem to be any help; "equidistribution modulo units" becomes, after rescaling, equidistribution of (the orbits under the action of the unit group of) the representations of a prime p on a hyperboloid of the form $x^2-dy^2=1$. May 16 '11 at 7:07
• I would also be interested in seeing this spelled out. May 16 '11 at 15:19
• Actually, I believe this is correct. See François's answer as well as my comment to it. May 16 '11 at 20:34
• That's what I get for posting comments at three in the morning. :) May 17 '11 at 6:25