Celestial mechanics

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Celestial mechanics is the branch of astronomy that deals with the motions of objects in outer space. Historically, celestial mechanics applies principles of physics (classical mechanics) to astronomical objects, such as stars and planets, to produce ephemeris data.

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History

Modern analytic celestial mechanics started with Isaac Newton's Principia of 1687. The name "celestial mechanics" is more recent than that. Newton wrote that the field should be called "rational mechanics." The term "dynamics" came in a little later with Gottfried Leibniz, and over a century after Newton, Pierre-Simon Laplace introduced the term "celestial mechanics." Prior to Kepler there was little connection between exact, quantitative prediction of planetary positions, using geometrical or arithmetical techniques, and contemporary discussions of the physical causes of the planets' motion.

Johannes Kepler

Johannes Kepler (15711630) was the first to closely integrate the predictive geometrical astronomy, which had been dominant from Ptolemy in the 2nd century to Copernicus, with physical concepts to produce a New Astronomy, Based upon Causes, or Celestial Physics in 1609. His work led to the modern laws of planetary orbits, which he developed using his physical principles and the planetary observations made by Tycho Brahe. Kepler's model greatly improved the accuracy of predictions of planetary motion, years before Isaac Newton developed his law of gravitation in 1686.

Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton (25 December 164231 March 1727) is credited with introducing the idea that the motion of objects in the heavens, such as planets, the Sun, and the Moon, and the motion of objects on the ground, like cannon balls and falling apples, could be described by the same set of physical laws. In this sense he unified celestial and terrestrial dynamics. Using Newton's law of universal gravitation, proving Kepler's Laws for the case of a circular orbit is simple. Elliptical orbits involve more complex calculations, which Newton included in his Principia .

Joseph-Louis Lagrange

After Newton, Lagrange (25 January 173610 April 1813) attempted to solve the three-body problem, analyzed the stability of planetary orbits, and discovered the existence of the Lagrangian points. Lagrange also reformulated the principles of classical mechanics, emphasizing energy more than force and developing a method to use a single polar coordinate equation to describe any orbit, even those that are parabolic and hyperbolic. This is useful for calculating the behaviour of planets and comets and such. More recently, it has also become useful to calculate spacecraft trajectories.

Simon Newcomb

Simon Newcomb (12 March 183511 July 1909) was a Canadian-American astronomer who revised Peter Andreas Hansen's table of lunar positions. In 1877, assisted by George William Hill, he recalculated all the major astronomical constants. After 1884, he conceived with A. M. W. Downing a plan to resolve much international confusion on the subject. By the time he attended a standardisation conference in Paris, France, in May 1886, the international consensus was that all ephemerides should be based on Newcomb's calculations. A further conference as late as 1950 confirmed Newcomb's constants as the international standard.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein (14 March 187918 April 1955) explained the anomalous precession of Mercury's perihelion in his 1916 paper The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity. This led astronomers to recognize that Newtonian mechanics did not provide the highest accuracy. Binary pulsars have been observed, the first in 1974, whose orbits not only require the use of General Relativity for their explanation, but whose evolution proves the existence of gravitational radiation, a discovery that led to the 1993 Nobel Physics Prize.

Examples of problems

Celestial motion, without additional forces such as drag forces or the thrust of a rocket, is governed by the reciprocal gravitational acceleration between masses. A generalization is the n-body problem, [1] where a number n of masses are mutually interacting via the gravitational force. Although analytically not integrable in the general case, [2] the integration can be well approximated numerically.

Examples:

In the case (two-body problem) the configuration is much simpler than for . In this case, the system is fully integrable and exact solutions can be found. [3]

Examples:

A further simplification is based on the "standard assumptions in astrodynamics", which include that one body, the orbiting body, is much smaller than the other, the central body. This is also often approximately valid.

Examples:
  • The Solar System orbiting the center of the Milky Way
  • A planet orbiting the Sun
  • A moon orbiting a planet
  • A spacecraft orbiting Earth, a moon, or a planet (in the latter cases the approximation only applies after arrival at that orbit)

Perturbation theory

Perturbation theory comprises mathematical methods that are used to find an approximate solution to a problem which cannot be solved exactly. (It is closely related to methods used in numerical analysis, which are ancient.) The earliest use of modern perturbation theory was to deal with the otherwise unsolvable mathematical problems of celestial mechanics: Newton's solution for the orbit of the Moon, which moves noticeably differently from a simple Keplerian ellipse because of the competing gravitation of the Earth and the Sun.

Perturbation methods start with a simplified form of the original problem, which is carefully chosen to be exactly solvable. In celestial mechanics, this is usually a Keplerian ellipse, which is correct when there are only two gravitating bodies (say, the Earth and the Moon), or a circular orbit, which is only correct in special cases of two-body motion, but is often close enough for practical use.

The solved, but simplified problem is then "perturbed" to make its time-rate-of-change equations for the object's position closer to the values from the real problem, such as including the gravitational attraction of a third, more distant body (the Sun). The slight changes that result from the terms in the equations – which themselves may have been simplified yet again – are used as corrections to the original solution. Because simplifications are made at every step, the corrections are never perfect, but even one cycle of corrections often provides a remarkably better approximate solution to the real problem.

There is no requirement to stop at only one cycle of corrections. A partially corrected solution can be re-used as the new starting point for yet another cycle of perturbations and corrections. In principle, for most problems the recycling and refining of prior solutions to obtain a new generation of better solutions could continue indefinitely, to any desired finite degree of accuracy.

The common difficulty with the method is that the corrections usually progressively make the new solutions very much more complicated, so each cycle is much more difficult to manage than the previous cycle of corrections. Newton is reported to have said, regarding the problem of the Moon's orbit "It causeth my head to ache." [4]

This general procedure – starting with a simplified problem and gradually adding corrections that make the starting point of the corrected problem closer to the real situation – is a widely used mathematical tool in advanced sciences and engineering. It is the natural extension of the "guess, check, and fix" method used anciently with numbers.

See also

Notes

  1. Trenti, Michele; Hut, Piet (2008-05-20). "N-body simulations (gravitational)". Scholarpedia. 3 (5): 3930. Bibcode:2008SchpJ...3.3930T. doi: 10.4249/scholarpedia.3930 . ISSN   1941-6016.
  2. Combot, Thierry (2015-09-01). "Integrability and non integrability of some n body problems". arXiv: 1509.08233 [math.DS].
  3. Weisstein, Eric W. "Two-Body Problem -- from Eric Weisstein's World of Physics". scienceworld.wolfram.com. Retrieved 2020-08-28.
  4. Cropper, William H. (2004), Great Physicists: The life and times of leading physicists from Galileo to Hawking, Oxford University Press, p. 34, ISBN   978-0-19-517324-6 .

Related Research Articles

Ecliptic Apparent path of the Sun on the celestial sphere

The ecliptic is the plane of Earth's orbit around the Sun. From the perspective of an observer on Earth, the Sun's movement around the celestial sphere over the course of a year traces out a path along the ecliptic against the background of stars. The ecliptic is an important reference plane and is the basis of the ecliptic coordinate system.

Orbit Curved path of an object around a point

In celestial mechanics, an orbit is the curved trajectory of an object such as the trajectory of a planet around a star, or of a natural satellite around a planet, or of an artificial satellite around an object or position in space such as a planet, moon, asteroid, or Lagrange point. Normally, orbit refers to a regularly repeating trajectory, although it may also refer to a non-repeating trajectory. To a close approximation, planets and satellites follow elliptic orbits, with the center of mass being orbited at a focal point of the ellipse, as described by Kepler's laws of planetary motion.

Perturbation theory In math and applied mathematics, methods for finding an approximate solution to a problem

In mathematics and applied mathematics, perturbation theory comprises methods for finding an approximate solution to a problem, by starting from the exact solution of a related, simpler problem. A critical feature of the technique is a middle step that breaks the problem into "solvable" and "perturbative" parts. In perturbation theory, the solution is expressed as a power series in a small parameter . The first term is the known solution to the solvable problem. Successive terms in the series at higher powers of usually become smaller. An approximate 'perturbation solution' is obtained by truncating the series, usually by keeping only the first two terms, the solution to the known problem and the 'first order' perturbation correction.

In astronomy and celestial navigation, an ephemeris is a book with tables that gives the trajectory of naturally occurring astronomical objects as well as artificial satellites in the sky, i.e., the position over time. The etymology is from Latin ephemeris 'diary' and from Greek ἐφημερίς (ephemeris) 'diary, journal'. Historically, positions were given as printed tables of values, given at regular intervals of date and time. The calculation of these tables was one of the first applications of mechanical computers. Modern ephemerides are often provided in electronic form. However, printed ephemerides are still produced, as they are useful when computational devices are not available.

Orbital mechanics Field of classical mechanics concerned with the motion of spacecraft

Orbital mechanics or astrodynamics is the application of ballistics and celestial mechanics to the practical problems concerning the motion of rockets and other spacecraft. The motion of these objects is usually calculated from Newton's laws of motion and law of universal gravitation. Orbital mechanics is a core discipline within space-mission design and control.

Newton's law of universal gravitation is usually stated as that every particle attracts every other particle in the universe with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centers. The publication of the theory has become known as the "first great unification", as it marked the unification of the previously described phenomena of gravity on Earth with known astronomical behaviors.

Gaussian gravitational constant

The Gaussian gravitational constant is a parameter used in the orbital mechanics of the Solar System. It relates the orbital period to the orbit's semi-major axis and the mass of the orbiting body in Solar masses.

Fixed stars Astronomical bodies that appear not to move relative to each other in the night sky

The fixed stars compose the background of astronomical objects that appear not to move relative to one another in the night sky, unlike the foreground of Solar System objects, which appear to move. Generally, the fixed stars are taken to include all stars other than the Sun. Nebulae and other deep-sky objects may also be counted among the fixed stars.

Three-body problem Physics problem related to laws of motion and gravity

In physics and classical mechanics, the three-body problem is the problem of taking the initial positions and velocities of three point masses and solving for their subsequent motion according to Newton's laws of motion and Newton's law of universal gravitation. The three-body problem is a special case of the n-body problem. Unlike two-body problems, no general closed-form solution exists, as the resulting dynamical system is chaotic for most initial conditions, and numerical methods are generally required.

Perturbation (astronomy)

In astronomy, perturbation is the complex motion of a massive body subject to forces other than the gravitational attraction of a single other massive body. The other forces can include a third body, resistance, as from an atmosphere, and the off-center attraction of an oblate or otherwise misshapen body.

In orbital mechanics, mean motion is the angular speed required for a body to complete one orbit, assuming constant speed in a circular orbit which completes in the same time as the variable speed, elliptical orbit of the actual body. The concept applies equally well to a small body revolving about a large, massive primary body or to two relatively same-sized bodies revolving about a common center of mass. While nominally a mean, and theoretically so in the case of two-body motion, in practice the mean motion is not typically an average over time for the orbits of real bodies, which only approximate the two-body assumption. It is rather the instantaneous value which satisfies the above conditions as calculated from the current gravitational and geometric circumstances of the body's constantly-changing, perturbed orbit.

Lunar theory attempts to account for the motions of the Moon. There are many small variations in the Moon's motion, and many attempts have been made to account for them. After centuries of being problematic, lunar motion is now modeled to a very high degree of accuracy.

Osculating orbit Orbital perturbations

In astronomy, and in particular in astrodynamics, the osculating orbit of an object in space at a given moment in time is the gravitational Kepler orbit that it would have around its central body if perturbations were absent. That is, it is the orbit that coincides with the current orbital state vectors.

The semi-analytic planetary theory VSOP is a mathematical model describing long-term changes in the orbits of the planets Mercury to Neptune. The earliest modern scientific model considered only the gravitational attraction between the Sun and each planet, with the resulting orbits being unvarying Keplerian ellipses. In reality, all the planets exert slight forces on each other, causing slow changes in the shape and orientation of these ellipses. Increasingly complex analytical models have been made of these deviations, as well as efficient and accurate numerical approximation methods.

Orbit determination

Orbit determination is the estimation of orbits of objects such as moons, planets, and spacecraft. One major application is to allow tracking newly observed asteroids and verify that they have not been previously discovered. The basic methods were discovered in the 17th century and have been continuously refined.

Kepler orbit

In celestial mechanics, a Kepler orbit is the motion of one body relative to another, as an ellipse, parabola, or hyperbola, which forms a two-dimensional orbital plane in three-dimensional space. A Kepler orbit can also form a straight line. It considers only the point-like gravitational attraction of two bodies, neglecting perturbations due to gravitational interactions with other objects, atmospheric drag, solar radiation pressure, a non-spherical central body, and so on. It is thus said to be a solution of a special case of the two-body problem, known as the Kepler problem. As a theory in classical mechanics, it also does not take into account the effects of general relativity. Keplerian orbits can be parametrized into six orbital elements in various ways.

<span class="texhtml mvar" style="font-style:italic;">n</span>-body problem Problem in physics and celestial mechanics

In physics, the n-body problem is the problem of predicting the individual motions of a group of celestial objects interacting with each other gravitationally. Solving this problem has been motivated by the desire to understand the motions of the Sun, Moon, planets, and visible stars. In the 20th century, understanding the dynamics of globular cluster star systems became an important n-body problem. The n-body problem in general relativity is considerably more difficult to solve due to additional factors like time and space distortions.

In astronomy, planetary mass is a measure of the mass of a planet-like astronomical object. Within the Solar System, planets are usually measured in the astronomical system of units, where the unit of mass is the solar mass (M), the mass of the Sun. In the study of extrasolar planets, the unit of measure is typically the mass of Jupiter (MJ) for large gas giant planets, and the mass of Earth (MEarth) for smaller rocky terrestrial planets.

This glossary of astronomy is a list of definitions of terms and concepts relevant to astronomy and cosmology, their sub-disciplines, and related fields. Astronomy is concerned with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth. The field of astronomy features an extensive vocabulary and a significant amount of jargon.

Orbit modeling is the process of creating mathematical models to simulate motion of a massive body as it moves in orbit around another massive body due to gravity. Other forces such as gravitational attraction from tertiary bodies, air resistance, solar pressure, or thrust from a propulsion system are typically modeled as secondary effects. Directly modeling an orbit can push the limits of machine precision due to the need to model small perturbations to very large orbits. Because of this, perturbation methods are often used to model the orbit in order to achieve better accuracy.

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