Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Baricentre (barycenter) - does it 'wobble'?

  1. May 6, 2005 #1


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    In another thread, in General Astronomy & Cosmology, the baricentre (or barycenter, for those in the US) was mentioned.

    Here are the relevant statements:
    I think this is an interesting discussion, but completely OT for the original thread.

    Does the baricentre 'wobble'? If so, how and why? If not, why not?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 6, 2005 #2
    Until some one refutes my Sun, Jupiter, Pluto argument/example of baricenter "wobble" I will hold the view I expressed in the last quote of post 1.

    I also note now for the first time, that the line of importance (assuming Earth based observations of black holes gravitational lens effects) is between the star with changing light curve and the Earth, not the baricenter, not that this fine distinction makes any significance difference, which is why I did not mention it in original thread, but this is a "clean start" so that fact should at least be noted.
  4. May 6, 2005 #3

    Andrew Mason

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    If you are defining 'baricentre' as the centre of mass of the entire solar system, including all the comets, asteroids and Kuiper belt objects, then it cannot wobble unless there is some kind of time dependent force being applied to the solar system as a whole, which is not the case. But the baricentre of any two solar system objects that are in orbit around each other (eg. sun/earth) can 'wobble' due to the gravitational effects of other solar system masses.

  5. May 6, 2005 #4
    That is the way Nereid defined it for me, but lets imagine a solar system containing just three objects, which I will continue to call, Sun, Jupiter and Pluto with roughly their same great difference in masses, but to make the case more extreme, lets assume this "Pluto" has an orbit plane (Pluto's ecliptic if you like) that is perpendicular to the ecliptic of Jupiter.

    (1) Do you agree that to first approximation, in this three object solar system, the baricenter is always in the ecliptic of Jupiter?

    (2)Exactly so, to all orders, when Pluto is also in Jupiter's ecliptic, but when Pluto is climbing higher and higher above Jupiter's ecliptic the next order approximation shows the baricenter is moving farther and farther above the ecliptic of Jupiter also? (Motion is relative so it could well be, as you suggest, that the baricenter is fixed and Jupiter's ecliptic is moving "down.")

    If you agree to these two (and I think you will) and continue to think that the baricenter is not moving, then it must be that the ecliptic of Jupiter is dropping farther and farther below the baricenter as Pluto climbs higher and higher above it.

    What I don't understand is why, relative to a fixed baricenter, the ecliptic of Jupiter should move below the fixed baricenter despite the gravitational attraction of Pluto, weak as it may be, tending to lift the ecliptic plane of Jupiter.

    I admit to having a strong inclination to agree that the baricenter is fixed, but am confused when I try to understand this three object solar system.

    I also want to note that in my original post I did mention exactly your "time dependent force being applied to the solar system as a whole" by citing a passing star. (or black hole - see new thread Could a local black hole exists undetected?)
    Last edited: May 6, 2005
  6. May 6, 2005 #5

    Andrew Mason

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    No. It will be whereever [itex]M_{sun}\vec r_{sun} + M_{jup}\vec r_{jup} + M_{sat}\vec r_{sat} + M_{plu}\vec r_{plu} = 0 [/itex]

    Let's face it, Pluto won't have much effect on Jupiter. Jupiter's moons will have much more effect on Jupiter than Pluto. You cannot do this qualitatively. You have to work out the numbers. The planets will move in ways that will keep the barycentre in the same 'position' relative to the stars (ignoring of course the motion of that barycentre within the Milky Way and wrt to other galaxies).

    The only way to detect a black hole is to either see it or for matter to get close enough to it to be captured by it. A black hole with the mass of the sun would behave (gravitationally) just like the sun until matter got really close to it.

  7. May 7, 2005 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    I think this discussion has skipped over the most basic question in all considerations of motion; "moving relative to what?".

    The Berry Center would indeed have the appearence of motion when viewed by any of the players in Billy T's theoretical model (the Sun, Jupiter, and Pluto). It is only to an outside observer, independant of Solar System dynamics, that it would be seen as constant, correct?
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook