July 24, 2024

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Right now, the Earth technically *doesn’t* revolve around the Sun

Right now, the Earth technically *doesn’t* revolve around the Sun

Charts and animations showing planetary orbits are lying to you a little. Or, more accurately, they simplify planetary orbits so that teachers don’t have to explain baricenters to kids who still realize that Earth isn’t the only planet out there.

The way you learn about planetary orbits generally looks like the video below.

But this is a simplified version. Although the Sun is the largest body in the solar system, with a mass of about 1,048 times that of Jupiter, gravity is a two-way street. Just as the Earth exerts a gravitational force on Earth, you exert your own (much smaller) gravitational force on Earth.

“Kepler’s third law describes the relationship between the masses of two objects mutually orbiting each other and determines the orbital parameters,” NASA explains.

“Think of a small star in orbit around a larger star. Both stars actually orbit around a common center of mass, called the barycenter. This is true regardless of the size or mass of each of the objects in question. Measuring the mass of a star is the movement around its center With a massive planet is one method that has been used to discover planetary systems associated with distant stars.

For simplicity, we say that the planets revolve around the sun. However, the center of solar system bodies is usually… close The Sun, since it provides the most mass, but thanks to the orbits and influence of the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, is rarely inside the Sun. The orbits look like the video below from a planetary astronomer and science communicator James O’Donoghue.

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As a result, the Earth does not currently revolve around a point inside the Sun, as its center of mass lies outside it. We orbit that point in space, instead of the sun.

“The planets generally revolve around the sun,” O’Donoghue Explains on X (Twitter), “But *technically* they don’t orbit the Sun alone because the gravitational influence of (mainly) Jupiter means the planets have to orbit a new point in space.”

He added: “The planets revolve around the sun, of course. We are just being pedantic about the situation.” He added. “The normal thinking is that we orbit around the center of the sun, but this rarely happens, that is, it is very rare for the center of mass of the solar system to be aligned with the center of the sun.”

The same applies to smaller objects, such as planets and their moons. The Earth and the Moon revolve around one point 5000 km (3,100 miles) from the center of the Earth, although this changes as the Moon moves further and further away from the Earth.

Although these facts probably have little impact on your life (assuming you’re not an astrophysicist), they are nonetheless interesting, and a reminder that almost everything is a little more complicated than you learned in school.