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Classical Astronomy. The Solar System

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We shall begin our treatment of astronomy with a historical overview of classical astronomy (Sect. 2.1) from ancient times up through the introduction of the heliocentric system by Nicholas Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei and their contemporaries, and the founding of celestial mechanics by Isaac Newton at the close of the 17th century. We then turn in Sect. 2.2 to the description of motions on the celestial sphere and the coordinate systems used to describe the positions of objects in the sky. In Sect. 2.3, we treat the motions of the Earth its rotation around its own axis and its revolution around the Sun, which make themselves evident as motions on the celestial sphere; in this section, we also take up the sidereal time scale. Following these preparatory remarks, we make the acquaintance of the objects of our Solar System beginning in Sect. 2.4 with the Moon, its motions, its phases, and with lunar and solar eclipses. In Sect. 2.5, we survey the motions of the planets, the comets, and other bodies in the Solar System, and the methods for determining distances between them. After reviewing the fundamentals of mechanics and the theory of gravitation, we discuss in Sect. 2.6 some of their applications to celestial mechanics and, in Sect. 2.7, to the calculation of the orbits of artificial satellites and space probes. Section 2.7 also contains a brief chronology of space-research missions. Finally, we treat the physical structure of the objects in the Solar System: the planets, their moons, and the asteroids in Sect. 2.8; and the comets, meteors, and meteorites in Sect. 2.9.


  • Solar Wind
  • Solar System
  • Solar Eclipse
  • Semimajor Axis
  • Impact Crater

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-662-02681-6_2
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  1. Vectors are denoted in print by boldface characters.

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  2. In the following sections, all summation signs Σ , when not otherwise noted, imply a summation from k =1 to N.

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  3. The vector product is defined so that a r. h. screw which is being turned from r k to F k will bore itself in the direction of M k.

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  4. We initially obtain However, in the first term, The vector product of the two parallel vectors also vanishes, since its magnitude is equal to the area between the factor vectors.

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  5. The general calculation can be found in any text on classical mechanics.

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  6. Our futurologists should pale with envy on reading Jules Verne’s predictions: his launching point was only 150 km from Cape Canaveral. To observe the projectile, a reflecting telescope of about 200“ (!) is constructed; one of the first tests is the complete resolution of the Crab Nebula!

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  7. Pa (Pascal) = 1 N•m-2 = 1 kg• m-1 S-2 is the SI unit of pressure. 1 Pa = 10 dyn/cm2 = 10-5 bar.

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© 1991 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg

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Unsöld, A., Baschek, B. (1991). Classical Astronomy. The Solar System. In: The New Cosmos. Heidelberg Science Library. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

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  • Publisher Name: Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-662-02683-0

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-662-02681-6

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