Tidal acceleration

Tidal acceleration is an effect of the tidal forces between an orbiting natural satellite (e.g. the Moon), and the primary planet that it orbits (e.g. Earth). The acceleration causes a gradual recession of a satellite in a prograde orbit away from the primary, and a corresponding slowdown of the primary's rotation. The process eventually leads to tidal locking, usually of the smaller first, and later the larger body. The Earth–Moon system is the best studied case.

The similar process of tidal deceleration occurs for satellites that have an orbital period that is shorter than the primary's rotational period, or that orbit in a retrograde direction.

The naming is somewhat confusing, because the speed of the satellite relative to the body it orbits is decreased as a result of tidal acceleration, and increased as a result of tidal deceleration.

Edmond Halley was the first to suggest, in 1695,[1] that the mean motion of the Moon was apparently getting faster, by comparison with ancient eclipse observations, but he gave no data. (It was not yet known in Halley's time that what is actually occurring includes a slowing-down of Earth's rate of rotation: see also Ephemeris time – History. When measured as a function of mean solar time rather than uniform time, the effect appears as a positive acceleration.) In 1749 Richard Dunthorne confirmed Halley's suspicion after re-examining ancient records, and produced the first quantitative estimate for the size of this apparent effect:[2] a centurial rate of +10″ (arcseconds) in lunar longitude, which is a surprisingly accurate result for its time, not differing greatly from values assessed later, e.g. in 1786 by de Lalande,[3] and to compare with values from about 10″ to nearly 13″ being derived about a century later.[4][5]

Pierre-Simon Laplace produced in 1786 a theoretical analysis giving a basis on which the Moon's mean motion should accelerate in response to perturbational changes in the eccentricity of the orbit of Earth around the Sun. Laplace's initial computation accounted for the whole effect, thus seeming to tie up the theory neatly with both modern and ancient observations.[6]

However, in 1854, John Couch Adams caused the question to be re-opened by finding an error in Laplace's computations: it turned out that only about half of the Moon's apparent acceleration could be accounted for on Laplace's basis by the change in Earth's orbital eccentricity.[7] Adams's finding provoked a sharp astronomical controversy that lasted some years, but the correctness of his result, agreed upon by other mathematical astronomers including C. E. Delaunay, was eventually accepted.[8] The question depended on correct analysis of the lunar motions, and received a further complication with another discovery, around the same time, that another significant long-term perturbation that had been calculated for the Moon (supposedly due to the action of Venus) was also in error, was found on re-examination to be almost negligible, and practically had to disappear from the theory. A part of the answer was suggested independently in the 1860s by Delaunay and by William Ferrel: tidal retardation of Earth's rotation rate was lengthening the unit of time and causing a lunar acceleration that was only apparent.[9]

It took some time for the astronomical community to accept the reality and the scale of tidal effects. But eventually it became clear that three effects are involved, when measured in terms of mean solar time. Beside the effects of perturbational changes in Earth's orbital eccentricity, as found by Laplace and corrected by Adams, there are two tidal effects (a combination first suggested by Emmanuel Liais). First there is a real retardation of the Moon's angular rate of orbital motion, due to tidal exchange of angular momentum between Earth and Moon. This increases the Moon's angular momentum around Earth (and moves the Moon to a higher orbit with a lower orbital speed). Secondly there is an apparent increase in the Moon's angular rate of orbital motion (when measured in terms of mean solar time). This arises from Earth's loss of angular momentum and the consequent increase in length of day.[10]

Because the Moon's mass is a considerable fraction of that of Earth (about 1:81), the two bodies can be regarded as a double planet system, rather than as a planet with a satellite. The plane of the Moon's orbit around Earth lies close to the plane of Earth's orbit around the Sun (the ecliptic), rather than in the plane perpendicular to the axis of rotation of Earth (the equator) as is usually the case with planetary satellites. The mass of the Moon is sufficiently large, and it is sufficiently close, to raise tides in the matter of Earth. In particular, the water of the oceans bulges out towards and away from the Moon. The average tidal bulge is synchronized with the Moon's orbit, and Earth rotates under this tidal bulge in just over a day. However, Earth's rotation drags the position of the tidal bulge ahead of the position directly under the Moon. As a consequence, there exists a substantial amount of mass in the bulge that is offset from the line through the centers of Earth and the Moon. Because of this offset, a portion of the gravitational pull between Earth's tidal bulges and the Moon is not parallel to the Earth–Moon line, i.e. there exists a torque between Earth and the Moon. Since the bulge nearer the moon pulls more strongly on it than the bulge further away, this torque boosts the Moon in its orbit and slows the rotation of Earth.

This page was last edited on 8 July 2018, at 18:37 (UTC).
Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tidal_deceleration under CC BY-SA license.

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