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Turns out the Earth and other planets technically don't always orbit around the Sun's center

Although school textbooks have left an indelible impression on most people that every planet revolves around the Sun's center, this technically isn't the truth.

Turns out the Earth and other planets technically don't always orbit around the Sun's center
Cover Image Source: YouTube | Carl Smith

The Sun is the center of the universe, and all planets revolve around it, right? Well, not exactly. When people think of the solar system, they usually picture the Sun at the center with Earth and the other planets orbiting it. However, the reality is more complex, reports IFLScience. Surprisingly, even the moon doesn't orbit the Earth. So, what really goes on in our solar system?

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Raymond McClintonel
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Raymond McClintonel

Newton's Third Law of Motion helps us understand this. It explains that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When Earth exerts a gravitational pull on us, we exert an equal force back, though it doesn't impact Earth because it is much larger, according to SciShow Space. Similarly, Earth exerts a pull on the Sun, and the Sun pulls back. Thus, Earth and the Sun orbit around each other. They orbit around a point between them called the barycenter.


Since Earth is 333,000 times smaller than the Sun, the barycenter is almost at the Sun's center. According to NASA, Kepler's third law describes the relationship between two orbiting objects and determines their orbital parameters. Jupiter, being the largest planet, has a barycenter farthest from the Sun, just outside the Sun's circumference due to its significant distance. A SciShow Space video explains that while these points of orbit might seem insignificant, they are crucial to understanding celestial mechanics.

Image Source: Kepler's Second Law | NASA
Image Source: Kepler's Second Law | NASA

This method has been crucial in discovering solar systems around distant stars. Fascinatingly, the barycenter is not stationary; it moves with the planets. Researchers found that the barycenter was just outside the Sun at the moment. The Sun also circles the barycenter, but its movement is minimal. This movement helps scientists discover other stars by spotting similar movements in bodies like the Sun.


"Planets orbit the Sun in general terms, but *technically* they don't orbit the Sun alone because the gravitational influence of (mainly) Jupiter means planets must orbit a new point in space," Dr James O'Donoghue, a planetary astronomer, explained on X. "The planets do orbit the Sun, of course. We are just being pedantic about the situation. The natural thinking is that we orbit the Sun's center, but that very rarely happens, i.e., it's very rare for the solar system's center of mass to align with the Sun's center," he further explained in the thread.

Our entire solar system has a barycenter that all the planets and the Sun orbit around, according to NASA. It is the center of mass of every object combined in the solar system. "While the Sun contains 99.8% of the Solar System's mass, Jupiter holds most of the rest (Saturn is 2nd), so the Sun actually orbits Jupiter slightly," O'Donoghue explained

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