Two-body Problem in General Relativity - Historical Context - Apsidal Precession

Apsidal Precession

See also: Apsidal precession and Laplace–Runge–Lenz vector

If the potential energy between the two bodies is not exactly the 1/r potential of Newton's gravitational law but differs only slightly, then the ellipse of the orbit gradually rotates (among other possible effects). This apsidal precession is observed for all the planets orbiting the Sun, primarily due to the oblateness of the Sun (it is not perfectly spherical) and the attractions of the other planets for one another. The apsides are the two points of closest and furthest distance of the orbit (the periapsis and apoapsis, respectively); apsidal precession corresponds to the rotation of the line joining the apsides. It also corresponds to the rotation of the Laplace–Runge–Lenz vector, which points along the line of apsides.

Newton's law of gravitation soon became accepted because it gave very accurate predictions of the apsidal precessions of all the planets. These calculations were carried out initially by Pierre-Simon Laplace in the late 18th century, and refined by Félix Tisserand in the later 19th century. Conversely, if Newton's law of gravitation did not predict the apsidal precessions of the planets accurately, it would have to be discarded as a theory of gravitation. Such an anomalous precession was observed in the second half of the 19th century, and it led to the overthrow of Newtonian model of gravity and the development of general relativity.

Read more about this topic:  Two-body Problem In General Relativity, Historical Context

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