Questions tagged [celestial-mechanics]

Celestial Mechanics is the branch of astronomy devoted to the study of the motion of the celestial bodies on the basis of the laws of gravitation.

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Can an atom orbit the Sun?

Is it possible for a molecule or atom to orbit a star (e.g. the Sun)? Or is there always too much outward force imparted by solar radiation compared to the inward force of gravitational attraction?
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58 votes
4 answers
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How far ahead can we predict solar and lunar eclipses?

The solar system is non-integrable and has chaos. The sun-earth-moon three-body system might be chaotic. So, how far into the future can we predict solar eclipses and/or lunar eclipses? How about ...
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55 votes
4 answers
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What does the Moon's orbit around the Sun look like?

I'm curious as to what the Moon's orbit around the Sun looks like. If there's an answer, what's the intuition for it? Here are some things I'm assuming when trying to tackle this question: The Moon's ...
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51 votes
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Why are $L_4$ and $L_5$ lagrangian points stable?

This diagram from wikipedia shows the gravitational potential energy of the sun-earth two body system, and demonstrates clearly the semi-stability of the $L_1$, $L_2$, and $L_3$ lagrangian points. The ...
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What did general relativity clarify about Mercury?

I frequently hear that Kepler, using his equations of orbital motion, could predict the orbits of all the planets to a high degree of accuracy -- except Mercury. I've heard that mercury's motion ...
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"Falling upward" - how far you have to be from Earth to start falling to the Moon?

Talking about gravity with my 9 y/o she asked when do we start "falling upward" to the Moon. What is the distance at which the Moon's gravitational attraction is higher than that of the Earth and thus ...
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33 votes
3 answers
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Is there a maximum distance from a planet that a moon can orbit?

Given a planet that orbits a star, and a moon that orbits that planet, is it possible to define a maximum orbital radius of that moon, beyond which the moon would no longer orbit the planet, but the ...
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If the 3-Body force problem hasn't been solved, how do rocket scientists plan orbits of spacecraft?

What methods would they use to predict what would happen in a situation when a probe is being acted upon by the gravity of two stars, say?
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6 answers
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Why are the orbits of planets in the Solar System nearly circular?

Except for Mercury, the planets in the Solar System have very small eccentricities. Is this property special to the Solar System? Wikipedia states: Most exoplanets with orbital periods of 20 days ...
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25 votes
7 answers
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Gravity on the International Space Station

We created a table in my physics class which contained the strength of gravity on different planet and objects in space. At altitude 0 (Earth), the gravitational strength is 100%. On the Moon at ...
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23 votes
4 answers
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For a spacecraft orbiting a planet, orbital speed is inversely proportional to orbit radius. But speed must be increased to increase orbit radius?

For a spacecraft in orbit with radius $r$ with speed $v$ around a planet, centripetal force $F_C$ is provided by gravity: $$\frac{GmM}{r^2}=\frac{mv^2}{r},$$ which simplifies to $$\frac{GM}{r}=v^2.$$ ...
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How do horseshoe orbits work?

An asteroid was recently discovered that is in a horseshoe orbit with respect to the earth. Is there an intuitive explanation for these orbits? It seems that the earth acts as a repulsive force where ...
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Why is Larry Niven's Ringworld Unstable?

In his 1970 science fiction novel Ringworld, author Larry Niven describes the eponymous Ringworld, a gigantic structure shaped as a ring with a radius of around 1 AU, rotating around a star in the ...
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18 votes
7 answers
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Why does the Earth follow an elliptical trajectory rather than a parabolic one?

I was taught that when the acceleration experienced by a body is constant, that body follows a parabolic curve. This seems logical because constant acceleration means velocity that is linear and ...
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17 votes
3 answers
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Why do we launch rockets during the day?

The clips that I have seen of rockets launching all seem to be carried out during daytime. However, we learnt at school that rockets are fired closer to the equator and towards the east to take ...
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17 votes
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Was Leverrier-Adams prediction of Neptune a lucky coincidence?

According to historians both Adams and Leverrier used Bode's law to guess the distance to Neptune, which led to a vast overestimation of its orbital period (Adams - 227 years, Le Verrier - 218 years, ...
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8 answers
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Why doesn't orbital body keep going faster and faster? [duplicate]

If we consider the change in velocity during an infinitesimal interval of an orbit: where body B is orbiting body A, we can see that the magnitude of the resultant vector (the green arrow) is greater ...
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15 votes
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Can the Earth leave orbit if the population of humans and other live forms increases?

I don't know a lot about physics, but this seemed like the correct place to ask my question. I apologize in advance if it is a ridiculous one. It's actually a two part question: If the population of ...
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15 votes
3 answers
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Simulating solar system with Newton's law

I made a simulation in C++ with Newtons law and test it comparing the planets positions with the position from Solar system Calculator Don Cross (which I converted from JavaScript to C++) http://...
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15 votes
3 answers
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Minimal velocity to throw an object to the Sun

What is the minimal velocity to throw an object (material point) to the Sun from Earth, with no specific restrictions?
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15 votes
6 answers
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What's the actual path of the planets?

I read about Kepler's Laws and in one of them he mentions that the path of a planet is an ellipse, with the sun as one of its foci (I'm narrowing down this to only our solar system). However though I'...
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15 votes
1 answer
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Why is the orbital resonance of the Galilean moons stable?

It is well known that the orbits of Ganymede, Europa and Io are in a 4:2:1 resonance. Most online sources (including but not limited to Wikipedia) say that such an orbital resonance, along with the 3:...
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14 votes
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What is the most efficient way to travel between tidally locked binary planets?

Suppose that there are two planets of roughly the same volume and mass are orbiting each other. What would be the most efficient way to travel from one to the other? In other words, what kind of ...
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13 votes
6 answers
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Extended object passing near an event horizon

Suppose a physically realistic object of nontrivial size (such as a star) free-falls past a black hole. The center-of-mass trajectory for the object is hyperbolic and (therefore) completely outside ...
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12 votes
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Is it possible for a moon to have the same orbital period as its planet?

Is it possible for a planet to take just as long to orbit its star as a moon takes to orbit the planet? If we assume circular orbits, then $\text{orbital period}\sim \sqrt{\frac{\text{radius}^{3}}{\...
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12 votes
3 answers
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Gravitational slingshot maximum

I have recently read an article about gravitation slingshot assist used by Voyagers 1-2, and was thinking on why this hasn't been used for travel between solar and other systems. I mean sligshot can ...
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12 votes
3 answers
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What could cause an asymmetric orbit in a symmetric potential?

My question can be summarized as: Given a potential with a symmetry (e.g. $z\rightarrow-z$), should I expect orbits in that potential to exhibit the same symmetry? Below is the full motivation for ...
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If we were on the Moon would Earth appear to be in motion or at rest?

If we were on the moon would earth appear stationary or would it appear to move. I think it must be stationary because moon is in sychronous rotation with earth.
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Why does an orbit become hyperbolic when total orbital energy is positive?

I stumbled across this page describing the energy of a given object in orbit. It describes 'total energy' as: $$E_{k} + E_{p} = E_{\mathrm{total}} $$ where $$E_k = \frac{1}{2}mv^2$$ and $$E_p = \...
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11 votes
3 answers
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What happens if you slow down a moon?

Let's say you'd put a whooping big rocket engine on the surface of the moon, and slow down its orbital velocity. Not to a complete stop, mind you. Just a bit slower than it was going before (a couple ...
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1 answer
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How "large" is a Lagrange point?

When placing an object at a L-point, the natural assumption, as with all things gravity, is that you needn't place it in an exact spot to achieve a stable configuration. How much room do you have to ...
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Under which conditions do two moving bodies start orbiting each other around their center of mass?

If two bodies are close, both will get attracted to each other and collide. Under what conditions will the two bodies start revolving around their common center of mass? I understand that such bodies ...
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Do the planets really orbit the Sun?

This is a duplicate of this question on Space Exploration.SE. So why would I ask it again here? Read below. The question reads We often say that the planets orbit the Sun, which is usually a ...
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4 answers
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Collision of Phobos

Mars has two moons: Phobos and Deimos. Both are irregular and are believed to have been captured from the nearby asteroid belt. Phobos always shows the same face to Mars because of tidal forces ...
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10 votes
5 answers
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How to learn celestial mechanics?

I'm a PhD student in math and am really excited about celestial mechanics. I was wondering if anyone could give me a roadmap for learning this subject. The amount of information about it on the ...
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What is the origin of spin of celestial objects?

In an older question from June 2011, Why does each celestial object spin on its own axis?, apparently revived by the system, a user is asking about the origin of the rotation of celestial bodies. The ...
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9 votes
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Can a moon have another large body as a satellite, and are there any examples of such?

In my mind, I'm comparing it to the Sun-Earth-Moon system. After all, the Earth is primarily a satellite of the Sun, but the Moon is still gravitationally bound to the Earth. Could something like this ...
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9 votes
3 answers
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Is there any dynamical reason for the winter solstice to happen close to the perihelion?

When the winter solstice arrives, the angular momentum of the Earth, its orbital angular momentum and its radius vector with the orbital focus in the Sun are in the same plane. This happens quite ...
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9 votes
1 answer
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Will Neptune change Pluto's orbit some day?

My seven-year-old son loves astronomy-- so much so that we read space books before bed time. One of our books talks about Pluto's orbit crossing over Neptune's orbit and will be (or is) closer to the ...
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3 answers
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Can an orbit be calculated using two points and transit time?

Working in only two dimensions and assuming that the central body is at the origin of the coordinate system, given two points in space and knowing the transit time between those points, as well as the ...
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9 votes
6 answers
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Does the Earth orbit the Sun's current location, or its location from 8 minutes ago?

... and how could we empirically test this? Notable commentary: "... the sun isn't where it was a millisecond ago, and we are revolving around where it was. It's a little like swinging a yoyo on ...
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9 votes
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Orbit through L4 and L5

I was reading the Wikipedia article on Lagrangian points and doing the requisite wiki walk through the various quasi-satellites of Earth when a question occurred to me: Could there be a stable or ...
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8 votes
3 answers
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Kepler's third law doesn't give earth's orbital period! Why? [closed]

I tried to calculate earth's orbital period using Kepler's third law, but I found 365.2075 days for the orbital period instead of 365.256363004 which is the correct value. I checked everything, and I ...
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8 votes
5 answers
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Why aren't all rocks in space orbiting bigger rocks?

Why do only big rocks (planets) have satellites, and not small ones? Why doesn't cosmic dust orbit rocks that are many times heavier than the dust grains? If dust is still too heavy then what about ...
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8 votes
3 answers
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Second Kepler's law explanation

What is the explanation for the second Kepler's law? Why is the law valid? Is it that the total energy of a planet equals to the kinetic energy plus the potential energy?
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8 votes
2 answers
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Orbit with crash

Let's assume I shoot an object from a high tower horizontal to the earth's surface. As far as I understand, depending on the velocity I will get different types of orbits. With decreasing velocity I ...
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8 votes
2 answers
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Earth-Sun distance on a given day of the year

The Earth-Sun distance on a given day of a year, can be calculated using the formula (source pdf): $$\frac{d}{\rm AU} = 1 - 0.01672\cos(0.9856({\rm day}-4))$$ where $\rm day$ is the count of days ...
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8 votes
2 answers
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Does a tidally locked planet have seasons?

Could a tidally locked planet have seasons? According to my understanding, a tidally locked planet rotates around itself exactly once per rotation around its sun. However, if the axis of rotation of ...
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8 votes
3 answers
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Do SR account for one sixth or one third of the anomalous perihelion shift?

In answers to two other questions on this site: Mercury's Orbital Precession in Special Relativity and Do 2-body elliptic orbits precess in special relativity? it is stated that special ...
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8 votes
3 answers
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Parallax, obliquity, precession, and Orion?

Today, the obliquity of the earth is about 23.4°. 6500 years ago, it was about 24.1° Imagine the blue square is the constellation of Orion, and the yellow star is the sun. Viewpoint B is you, on ...
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