Jupiter and the theory of relativity blamed for course changes of celestial bodies

April 27, 2017
The famous Barringer meteor crater in Arizona, which was created by an impact about 50 000 years ago. Credit: D. Roddy, Lunar Planetary Institute, NASA

In the case of solar system bodies passing close to the sun, there are two important effects playing a crucial role in the orbital evolution. One of the effects is from the general relativity and the other effect is from Newtonian theory of gravitation.

The prediction of a periodic shift in the orbit (which is technically called precession in celestial mechanics) of Mercury and the subsequent confirmation of this additional shift in orbit from real observations, was one of the greatest triumphs of developed by Einstein about 102 years ago.

This is one of the important effects which occur in solar system bodies passing close to the sun because orbital velocities increase considerably when bodies come near the sun and when the velocities increase substantially, relativistic effects can become important (Figure 1).

The other is from the periodic gravitational influences of Jupiter (technically called the Kozai mechanism in celestial mechanics) from the Newtonian theory which make the orbit narrower and narrower (or in other words, more and more elliptical) and make the orbiting body come closer and closer to the sun after every subsequent revolution.

These gradual gravitational effects from Jupiter have led to the production of some exceptionally spectacular sungrazing comets (i.e. comets which come very close to the sun and hence very bright in appearance from our planet) in Earth's history.

Jupiter and the theory of relativity blamed for course changes of celestial bodies
Figure 1. Simple schematic of the shift of orbit of planet Mercury due to general relativistic effects; the orbit itself rotates slowly. Credit: Cornell University

Previous works in solar system science have looked into these effects separately for some bodies, but in our present study, we look at the interesting scenarios when we have the combination of both these effects in solar system bodies.

Our calculations show that these periodic gravitational influences from Jupiter can lead to rapid enhancements in orbital shifts due to general relativity by virtue of the bodies coming closer to the sun after every passage around the sun. Sometimes the bodies can have extreme close approaches to the sun which eventually lead to collision with the sun, induced by these periodic effects from Jupiter.

A good example which shows this property in our studies is comet 96P/Machholz 1 which undergoes rapid sun approaching phases and eventually falls into the sun in about 9,000 years from present time.

Figure 2. Map of known craters found on Earth due to impacts of bodies from space. Credit: Stephanie Werner

During its final journey just before the collision with sun, we find that the orbital shifts due to general relativity can peak to about 60 times that of the orbital shift of Mercury, which is a record high value in the context of solar system bodies observed so far.

Furthermore this comet undergoes a reversal in its reference orbital direction (technically called an inclination flip in ) due to Jupiter's systematic gravitational effects.

Our study shows for the first time an example of a solar system body which shows all these previously mentioned effects and traits overlapping in a neat way. This makes this study new and unique from previous orbit studies of similar solar system objects.

The comet C/1965 S1 (Ikeya-Seki) was one of the most spectacular sungrazing comets in history. Credit: Maynard Pittendreigh

Moreover we find that the combination of both above-said effects have important consequences in the realm of impact studies on Earth from small solar system bodies. Our calculations show that even a small orbital shift due to general relativity can vary greatly the closest orbit distance between the solar system body and Earth.

Jupiter's periodic effects can enhance the general in some solar system orbits. This leads to close approach scenarios between solar system bodies changing significantly.

This in turn plays an important role in studying and assessing long term impact threat estimates on Earth, which can create interesting and remarkable features like craters and meteor storms on our Earth.

Our planet has been bombarded with different solar system bodies of different sizes throughout its orbital history (Figure 2) and these signatures in the form of craters act as a crucial tool to understand the evolution and dynamics of our Earth (which is the focus theme of CEED based at UiO).

The Pan-STARRS PS1 telescope on Hawaii is currently the most active hunter for Near Earth Objects. Credit: Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii

The modern telescopic surveys are scanning the sky continuously to find solar system objects which could potentially come very close to the Earth and become a threat for our Earth in future.

Today's precise observations aided by large telescopes in different parts of the world and detailed theoretical calculations augmented by supercomputing facilities (like USIT NOTUR computing clusters) aim to come up with better models in the context of short term and long term impact hazard studies to make Earth a safer place in the larger picture of our existence.

Explore further: Wrong-way asteroid plays 'chicken' with Jupiter

More information: A. Sekhar et al. Change in general relativistic precession rates due to Lidov–Kozai oscillations in Solar system, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2017). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stx548

Related Stories

Wrong-way asteroid plays 'chicken' with Jupiter

March 29, 2017

For at least a million years, an asteroid orbiting the "wrong" way around the sun has been playing a cosmic game of chicken with giant Jupiter and with about 6,000 other asteroids sharing the giant planet's space, says a ...

Astronomers predict possible birthplace of Rosetta comet

October 20, 2016

When the Rosetta spacecraft successfully touched down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Sept. 30, the news was shared globally via Twitter in dozens of languages. Citizens the world over were engaged by the astronomical ...

Recommended for you

Eclipse 2017: Science from the moon's shadow

December 11, 2017

On Dec. 11, 2017, six researchers discussed initial findings based on observations of the Sun and on Earth gathered during the solar eclipse that stretched across North America on Aug. 21, 2017. Ranging from new information ...

Unravelling the mysteries of extragalactic jets

December 11, 2017

University of Leeds researchers have mathematically examined plasma jets from supermassive black holes to determine why certain types of jets disintegrate into huge plumes.

The initial mass function

December 11, 2017

The gas and dust in giant molecular clouds gradually come together under the influence of gravity to form stars. Precisely how this occurs, however, is incompletely understood. The mass of a star, for example, is by far the ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JongDan
5 / 5 (2) Apr 27, 2017
That's interesting. I was aware of both effects but never really thought about what happens if both are considered simultaneously. Not surprised that they don't exactly sum up linearly.
xinhangshen
1 / 5 (2) May 09, 2017
Don't try to match the reality with the wrong theory - general relativity! My paper "Challenge to the special theory of relativity" on Physics Essays (March 1, 2016) has already disproved Einstein's relativity theory both logically and experimentally.

The most obvious and indisputable experimental evidence, which everybody with basic knowledge of special relativity should immediately understand: is the existence of the absolute time shown by the universally synchronized clocks on the GPS satellites which move at high velocities relative to each other while special relativity claims that time is relative (i.e. the time on each reference frame is different) and can never be synchronized on clocks moving with relative velocities.

That is, time is absolute and there is no such thing called 4D spacetime in nature. General relativity is logically wrong which can't be fixed.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.