Kepler (1571-1630) challenged the belief that planets moved in perfectly
circular orbits. Using data collected by the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe,
Kepler determined that the paths of the planets were ellipses, and formulated
his three laws to explain and predict planetary motion.
FIRST LAW: Each planetary orbit is an ellipse, with the Sun
at one focus of the ellipse.
SECOND LAW: The line joining the planet to the sun sweeps out
equal areas for equal time intervals. This means: The closer a planet
is to the Sun in its orbit, the faster it moves.
THIRD LAW: The cube of a planet's semi-major axis of its orbit,
divided by the square of its orbital period, is a constant. So, where
d is the length of the semi-major axis and t is the time it takes for
an orbit, d3 /t2 is the same for all planets.
Simply put: The farther a planet is from the Sun, the longer it takes
to complete an orbit.
laws are important for calculating the orbit of a planet with only partial
information. In essence, the discovery of Neptune and Pluto involved
a reverse application of these laws and the law of gravity, to predict
where a planet might be based on how it was affecting the orbit of another
Back to Newton's Laws
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