Jupiter’s Gravity Or Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity: Which Is Changing Mercury's Orbit Around The Sun?

First Posted: Apr 28, 2017 04:44 AM EDT

Was Albert Einstein aware of the fact that Mercury's orbit around the Sun is subject to periodic changes? It seems, yes. Years after the original proposition, his prediction was confirmed by real-time observations made by astronomical experts. After that, it was realized that celestial objects while passing close to Sun experience a steep increase in their orbital velocities. However, how and which physical forces cause this anomaly is a question the answer to which remains ambiguous as of yet.

According to leading physicists, the two most important physical concepts that may contribute in this effect are the theory of general relativity and the gravitational pull of Jupiter. The changes in the orbit of celestial bodies that are attributed to the theory of general relativity are referred to as "precession in celestial mechanics," while the implications of Jupiter's gravity are referred to as "Kozai mechanism in celestial mechanics," reported.

These two mechanisms act in tandem to narrow the orbit of revolving celestial objects and then push them toward the Sun. Amazingly, these forces are also responsible for the production of the scintillating Sun-grazing comets. These comets are pushed toward the Sun, due to which they appear bright from Earth.

Most of the previous studies on orbital shifts of Mercury addressed the outcomes of independent presence of each of the physical forces described above. However, it is important to note that there are negligible chances that these forces exist in isolation for real.

A recent study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society highlighted this discrepancy and proposed a new model to predict the combinatorial effect of the forces. The article explained that Jupiter's gravity instigates the process of shifting of Mercury's orbital velocities. The effect of this shift is further propagated due to the interplay of principles of theory of general relativity. In other words, Jupiter's gravity can cause orbital shifts but it manifests due to the theory of general relativity, especially when Mercury is closest to the Sun.

The same principles have been used to explain the anomalous behavior of the comet 96P/Machholz 1. The comet is known to experience periodic orbital shifts. It is predicted that it will eventually fall into the Sun, but not before 9,000 years.

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