A Break in the Cycle

Posted on April 12, 2018 by in Features, Uncategorized

 Chronicle Reporter

Leslie Figueroa

Credit: University of Arizona News

 Outer Space has long been a mystery to us, and it has only been recently that we have been able to unlock some of its mysteries. From mind-blowing discoveries such as heliocentricity to finding water on Mars. Thus it is only certain that we improve upon previously thought of misconceptions. Recently, however, we seem to have broken the cycle, or at least Mercury’s Cycle that is.

Mercury, like many planets, orbits the sun in an ellipse that gradually rotates over time. We know this because of the famous physicist Albert Einstein. He opened mankind’s eyes to the universe. More specifically he opened our eyes to the possibility of a connection between Einstein’s law of gravity to the orbits of our planets. Before Einstein, we thought of the universe as featureless and changeless, with time following its own pace as Newton once said. These words, however, would prove to be wrong centuries later as Gravity would prove to affect more than just an apple falling on the ground.

Newton was on the right track, as he connected to earth’s physics to the planets and stars, but he didn’t know how it was all connected. In fact, he famously would refuse to even try to figure it out and would take years later for an Einstein to piece it all together. Gravity, he proved, not only made things go up and down it also made planets go round.


  “Albert Einstein, in his theory of special relativity, determined that the laws of physics are the same for all non-accelerating observers, and he showed that the speed of light within a vacuum is the same no matter the speed at which an observer travels.”-Nola Taylor Redd


   This theory would come to explain an anomaly to Mercury’s orbit that Newton’s theory just couldn’t explain. A subtly in the orbit, as every couple of years its orbit would match up to calculations based upon Newton’s gravity. It was thus that a tweak was made upon Mercury’s orbit due to Einstein’s brilliance. Now however in recent times Mercury’s orbit is being tweaked for the second time. Now physicist Clifford Will has calculated another effect of Einstein’s general relativity on Mercury’s orbit. The effects, however, are too small of a thing to be noticed in observations so far.

  In short, planets move in elliptical orbits that shift and rotate as each planet in turn orbits around the sun. The rotations have been thought to have been altered by gravity from other planets. And while that is true, according to general relativity, gravity is caused by massive objects warping spacetime (yes, warping spacetime is an actual thing in science), thus Einstein had previously concluded that the sun would certainly big enough to cause a warping through spacetime and thus affect planets and their orbits. This would affect Mercury the most as it is the closest planet to the sun.

 Will hypothesis that this would not only affect how the sun pulls on Mercury, but how other planets pull on Mercury as well and vice versa. Will has stated that the difference is so small that it would take around 2 billion years to even add a degree to Mercury’s orbit. Nevertheless, it is in the nature of science to question what we know and test out our theories. Wills theory is no different, as soon a European and Japanese space mission to Mercury called the BepiColombo will test it out.

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