Celestial mechanics, the study of motions of celestial bodies, together with spherical astronomy, was the main branch of astronomy until the end of the 19th century, when astrophysics began to evolve rapidly. The primary task of classical celestial mechanics was to explain and predict the motions of planets and their satellites. Several empirical models, like epicycles and Kepler’s law, had been employed to describe these motions. But none of these models explained why the planets moved the way they did. It was only in the 1680’s that a simple explanation was found for all these motions — Newton’s law of universal gravitation. In this chapter, we will derive some properties of orbital motion. The physics we need for this is simple indeed, just Newton’s laws. (For a review, see *Newton’s Laws, p. 153.
KeywordsOrbital Element Radius Vector Orbit Determination Orbital Plane Celestial Mechanics
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