Typically covered in a first course on ordinary differential equations, this problem finds applications in the solution of the Schrödinger equation for a one-electron atom (i.e. Hydrogen). In fact, this equation is a smaller problem that results from using separation of variables to solve Laplace’s equation. One finds that the angular equation is satisfied by the Associated Legendre functions. However, if it is assumed that then the equation reduces to Legendre’s equation.

The equation can be stated as

The power series method starts with the assumption

Next, we require the first and second order derivatives

and

Substitution yields

Distribution of the first terms gives

where in the second summation term we have rewritten the index to start at zero since the terms for which are zero, and hence have no effect on the overall sum. This allows us to write the sum this way. Next, we introduce a dummy variable. Therefore, let . Thus, the equation becomes

In order for this to be true for all values of j, we require the coefficients of equal zero. Solving for we get

It becomes evident that the terms are dependent on the terms and . The first term deals with the even solution and the second deals with the odd solution. If we let and solve for , we arrive at the term and we can obtain the next term . (I am not going to go through the details. The derivation is far too tedious. If one cannot follow there is an excellent video on YouTube that goes through a complete solution of Legendre’s ODE where they discuss all finer details of the problem. I am solving this now so that I can solve more advanced problems later on.) A pattern begins to emerge which we may express generally as:

Now, for even terms and for odd terms . Thus for the even solution we have

and for the odd solution we have

These two equations make up the even and odd solution to Legendre’s equation. They are an explicit general formula for the Legendre polynomials. Additionally we see that they can readily be used to derive Rodrigues’ formula

and that we can relate Legendre polynomials to the Associated Legendre function via the equation

where I have let so as to preserve a more standard notation. This is the general rule that we will use to solve the associated Legendre differential equation when solving the Schrödinger equation for a one-electron atom.

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