The solar system is slowly slipping away from the clutches of Sun’s gravitational pull which is getting weaker every day due to our aging sun which is almost 5 billion years old!
Scientists have been studying the changes in the trajectories of heavenly bodies, such as Mercury, which is being influenced by the Sun’s gravitational power to indirectly calculate the mass loss of the star.
Scientists have been studying Mercury’s motion along the charted ephemeris (the path of the planet’s position in our sky) for a long time and they have noticed that the perihelion (or the closest point of the Mercury’s orbit to the Sun) has been shifting over time. This is called precession.
One of the reasons for this phenomenon is the warping or deforming of the fabric of space-time due to Sun’s huge mass as stated by Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
Other reasons include the pull due to other planets and also the interior structure and dynamics of the sun including the fact that it is not a perfect sphere.
“Mercury is the perfect test object for these experiments because it is so sensitive to the gravitational effect and activity of the Sun,” said Antonio Genova, the researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.
The new research conducted by NASA and MIT has reduced the uncertainty in the calculations for the rate of solar mass loss which has an impact on the stability of the gravitational constant, G ( which has been improved by a factor of 10, compared to values that were derived from studies of the motion of the Moon).
In the study published in the journal Nature Communications, the team examined the orbit of MESSENGER spacecraft, which probed Mercury till its death in 2015 and integrated the data with that of Mercury to learn more about the Sun- planet interactions.
“We’re addressing long-standing and very important questions both in fundamental physics and solar science by using a planetary-science approach,” said Erwan Mazarico, the geophysicist at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center in the US.
“By coming at these problems from a different perspective, we can gain more confidence in the numbers, and we can learn more about the interplay between the Sun and the planets,” he added.