Relativistic effects and solar oblateness from radar observations of planets and spacecraft
We used more than 250 000 high-precision American and Russian radar observations of the inner planets and spacecraft obtained in the period 1961–2003 to test the relativistic parameters and to estimate the solar oblateness. Our analysis of the observations was based on the EPM ephemerides of the Institute of Applied Astronomy, Russian Academy of Sciences, constructed by the simultaneous numerical integration of the equations of motion for the nine major planets, the Sun, and the Moon in the post-Newtonian approximation. The gravitational noise introduced by asteroids into the orbits of the inner planets was reduced significantly by including 301 large asteroids and the perturbations from the massive ring of small asteroids in the simultaneous integration of the equations of motion. Since the post-Newtonian parameters and the solar oblateness produce various secular and periodic effects in the orbital elements of all planets, these were estimated from the simultaneous solution: the post-Newtonian parameters are β = 1.0000 ± 0.0001 and γ = 0.9999 ± 0.0002, the gravitational quadrupole moment of the Sun is J2 = (1.9 ± 0.3) × 10−7, and the variation of the gravitational constant is Ġ/G = (−2 ± 5) × 10−14 yr−1. The results obtained show a remarkable correspondence of the planetary motions and the propagation of light to General Relativity and narrow significantly the range of possible values for alternative theories of gravitation.