Questions tagged [celestial-mechanics]

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424 questions
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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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 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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Are there planetary systems where the planes of orbits vary greatly?

Inspired by this question, are there any known planetary systems with largely varying planes of orbit? For example a system where two planets have perpendicular planes?
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Rocky Planet in the center of System [duplicate]

We all know that mostly stars are at the center of planetary systems, but is it possible that instead of a star there was a rocky planet in the center with stars (and other planets and moons) orbiting ...
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How could the precession of Mercury be known so accurately in the 19th century?

The discrepancy between the observed precession of the perihelion of Mercury and the value predicted by Newtonian theory was known in the 19th century to be approximately 43 arcseconds per century. ...
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Kepler's 3rd law: ratios don't fit data

I have been looking at satellite orbits around the earth, or any object around any planet in fact, and am trying to find the orbital radius, or semi major length of a given satellite. Kepler's third ...
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What are the forces behind the orbit of the Earth around the Sun?

Does the gravity of the sun alone affect the orbit of the earth around the sun? Look at the image below,(Image is not to scale), Is it that when earth is going from position 1 to position 2, it ...
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How did pre-Copernican astronomers accurately predict planetary position?

Copernican elements (circular orbital elements) are not very accurate. But Copernicus simplified our understanding a great deal by placing the Sun at the center of the system. Im astonished by the ...
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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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Falling through the rotating Earth

Suppose you were standing on the rotating Earth (not necessarily Equator or the poles) and suddenly your body lost the ability to avoid effortlessly passing through solid rock. Because the earth's ...
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Why planets are orbiting only in one plane? [duplicate]

Since gravity is three dimensional why planets are orbiting only in one plane around sun.
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Why is the universe so organized?

If you think about the Big Bang and the flow of matter in all directions, you would think, how unorganized would this universe be? No matter how long it would take. The idea that matter or most of it ...
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What is $R$ in the formula for escape velocity?

From the escape velocity formula $$v_e = \sqrt \frac {2GM}R.$$ Some sources say it is the distance between two objects with mass $M$ and $m$. Some examples I have read, only used radius of the $M$. ...
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How about an exact solution for the position of a planet as a function of time?

Recently I was surprised to discover that no exact solution for the position of a planet as a function of time exists. I am referring to the two-body problem in a gravitational field where Newtons law ...
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Planet orbits: what's the difference between gravity and centripetal force?

My physics teacher says that centripetal force is caused by gravity. I'm not entirely sure how this works? How can force cause another in space (ie where there's nothing). My astronomy teacher says ...
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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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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 ...