In my physics book they say that the relative distance between two stars (that both have elliptical orbits) in a double-star system equals $4.0 AU$ in the pericenter, and $16.0AU$ in the apocenter. Apparently, their relative orbit is an ellipse. However, I don't really understand the situation here. In the case of circular orbits, I understand that both stars share the centre of mass as the center of their relative orbit. We then have the equation $\frac{m_1}{m_2}=\frac{r_2}{r_1}$. But I don't understand the scenario with elliptical orbits. Could someone explain the picture here? Especially how this relative distance translates to an ellipse? Do they still have a stationary center of mass? Is one of the focal points the center of mass?

  • $\begingroup$ Minor comment: I guess $AE =AU$. $\endgroup$ – Qmechanic Feb 13 '17 at 10:08
  • $\begingroup$ If there is no external force on the system, the center of mass does not accelerate. "Do they have a stationary center of mass?" cannot be answered because it depends on the frame of reference. But one thing that is guaranteed is that the center of mass' velocity (if any) won't change when you are watching from an inertial reference frame. $\endgroup$ – Yashas Feb 13 '17 at 12:31
  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "Apparently, their relative orbit is an ellipse."? $\endgroup$ – Yashas Feb 13 '17 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Semi-major axis and ellipticity of a binary system? $\endgroup$ – sammy gerbil Feb 14 '17 at 2:11
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Meaning of the focus of an elliptical orbit $\endgroup$ – sammy gerbil Jul 19 '18 at 17:05

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