Friday, June 1, 2018

Selected Questions -Answers From All Experts Astronomy Forum (Model Planet And Moon Orbits)

Question -

I am designing a planetary system and want a moon to orbit a planet in
such a way that, when it is viewed from the surface of the planet, the
moon is seen as stationary in the sky.(Moons orbital period is same as
planetary rotational period) I believe this is called an acentric orbit?
How do I go about determining the mass/distance relationship?  It is my
intention to have two moons, one behind the other, both stationary as seen
from the planets surface.  Can this be done?


The type of orbit that you described, with the moon (or satellite)
stationary in the sky with respect to position on the planet, is called

The first thing you need to do, is to obtain or set the mass (M) for your
planet. This is so you can get its acceleration of gravity, g.

You also want to know the radius (r) of your planet.

If you know M, and r, then:

g = (G M)/ r 2

where G is the universal constant of gravitation, or

G = 6.7 x 10 -11  (note that this is the value compatible with using metric
units of meters for r, and kilograms or kg for M).

Thus, in the case of the Earth, for which M = 6 x 10 24 kg, and r = 6.4 x
10 6 m, we have:

  g = [(6.7 x 10 -11 ) (6 x 10 24 )]/ (6.4 x 10 6) 2

which you can check on any good multi-function calculator, and which will
be found to be g = 9.8 m/s2  approx.

For a geo-stationary condition, the distance R of a moon or satellite from
the CENTER of the planet is:

R = {[g* (r 2)*T 2]/
4p 2 } 1/3

where all the quantities are as defined above, and T is the period of your
planet - in seconds- to make one rotation. (Note that the whole quantity
is raised to the 1/3 power, e.g. the cube root)

We can use
p  = 3.14

 Let's apply it to the case of the Earth, for reference:

R = {[(9.8)* (6.4 x 10 6) 2  (86,400) 2]/ 4 * (3.14) 2 } 1/3

which comes out to:

R = 4.23 x 10 7 m

or R = 42,300 km (since 1 km = 1000 m or 10 3 m)

In other words, this is the distance that a moon would have to be from
Earth to be stationary to an observer on the surface.

Note here that:  R = d + r where r is the radius of the planet (Earth) and
d is the distance from surface to Moon center.

Thus, if r = 6400 km, then

d = R - r  = 42,300 km - 6400 km =  35, 900 km

or R =  (35, 900 km ) 0.625 = 22, 400 miles

(Since 1 km = 5/8 or 0.625 of a mile)

All of this can be applied to your own planet and moon, simply by changing
the quantities as needed when making the substitutions.

One final point. You want to make sure that your moon is beyond the Roche
limit, i.e. the limit wherein the tidal forces of the planet can tear it

This is typically:

2.423 x the planet's radius, assuming both planet and moon have the SAME

In that instance, you need to use the formula for the Roche Limit:

RL = [(2.423)* r* (density of planet)]/ (density of Moon)

We know, from a geodetic table, that:

density of Earth = 5.51 g/ cc (grams per cubic centimeter)

density of Moon = 3.34 g/cc

Then:  RL =  [2.423* (6.4 x 10 6  m)*5.51]/ 3.34

Note that we needn't worry about density unit compatibility since the same
factor will apply whether in kg/ m 3 or g/cm 3 )


RL =  2.423 * (6.4 x 10 6 )* 1.65 = 2.55 x 10 7 m

or 25, 500 km (or 40, 939 miles)

Since a geo-stationary 'moon' for Earth would be at R = 42,300 km


RL < R   (25, 500 km <  42, 300 km)

then the condition is met, at least for the case of the Earth .

This is what you will have to do with your own 'designed' system to make
sure it conforms to realistic physical conditions.

Now, you also mentioned having "an additional moon", so that one is behind
the other and "both stationary as seen from the planets surface".

Alas, you are seeking to have 'your cake and eat it'.

The point here is that only one moon can occupy a given geo-stationary
orbit (i.e. for one planet) and conform to those orbital parameters.

Thus, you would virtually have to have one moon 'sitting' adjacent to the
other in orbit, but this is clearly impossible since the Roche Limit
prohibits it!

Thus, the realistic position for a 2nd moon would have to be such that
it's OUTSIDE the Roche Limit of the inner moon.

Say, your first moon's radius is 1000 km, then the 2nd can be no closer

2.423 x (1000 km) = 2, 423 km

assuming both have the same density. But, now - 2,423 km further out, one
has (say for the case of Earth and a geo-stationary moon):

R' = 42,300 km +  2, 423 km = 44, 723 km

and since R <> R'  (not equal R') the moon can no longer be stationary for
the same observer on the planet (Earth).

Hopefully, you will find this information helpful in designing your

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