Exploring the Mystery of Coplanar Orbits

In summary, our solar system is often depicted as having a "flat" representation with the Sun and its satellites in coplanar orbits, and this is not just a creative liberty but an actual observation. This trend of coplanar orbits is present in about 50 out of 300 known planets and is likely due to the original cloud of gas and dust from which the Solar System formed having a net rotation, leading to the conservation of angular momentum in the formation of planets and the Sun. This is further supported by the fact that the plane of orbit tends to be in line with the equator of the star.
  • #1
Archosaur
331
1
Our solar system is often depicted, as it is on the poster on my wall, as the Sun and all of its satellites in coplanar orbits around it. I thought, however, that this "flat" representation was just a creative liberty taken to make is possible to put on a poster, but now I come to find out that the orbits of the planets are coplanar.

Why is this? There is no bias for a particular plane of orbit present in Newton's theory of universal gravitation, right?

At first I thought it could be possible that it's just by chance, but then I learned that it's not just our solar system. Apparently, of the 300 or so planets we know of, only about 50 have oblique orbits.

It also happens that the plane in which planets tend to orbit is the plane of the equator of their star.

Can someone tell me where this trend toward coplanar orbits comes from?
 
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  • #2
Put simply, the original cloud of gas and dust from which the Solar System formed had a net rotation around an axis. The planets and the Sun which formed from that cloud share that net rotation. Its a matter of conservation of angular momentum.
 
  • #3
Presumably, it's to do with the way the solar system formed. The central star (the Sun) formed at the centre of a huge cloud of gas, which began to rotate, squishing the rest of the cloud down into an accretion disk. In time, the planets were formed from this accretion disk, and were all pretty much in the same plane of orbit.
 
  • #4
Of course! Thanks guys.
 

Related to Exploring the Mystery of Coplanar Orbits

1. What is a coplanar orbit?

A coplanar orbit is an orbit in which two or more objects travel around a central body in the same plane. This means that the orbital paths of the objects lie in the same flat plane, and they never cross over or under each other.

2. How do you determine if two orbits are coplanar?

The best way to determine if two orbits are coplanar is to plot their orbital paths on a 3D graph. If the paths intersect at any point, then the orbits are not coplanar. Additionally, you can calculate the inclination angle between the two orbits. If the angle is 0 degrees, then the orbits are coplanar.

3. What causes objects to have coplanar orbits?

Coplanar orbits are typically caused by the initial conditions of the orbit. When two objects are formed or captured in a similar plane, their orbits will likely remain coplanar. Other factors such as gravitational forces and collisions can also lead to coplanar orbits.

4. Can coplanar orbits exist in non-circular shapes?

Yes, coplanar orbits can exist in non-circular shapes. As long as the orbital paths lie in the same plane, the orbits can have any shape, including elliptical, parabolic, or hyperbolic.

5. What is the significance of coplanar orbits in space exploration?

Coplanar orbits are important in space exploration as they allow spacecraft to easily rendezvous and dock with other objects in orbit. This is essential for missions such as satellite deployment, space station maintenance, and deep space exploration. Coplanar orbits also help scientists study the dynamics of celestial bodies and understand the formation and evolution of our solar system.

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