It’s time to unlearn one of the most basic scientific facts we learnt as a kid – the solar system does not in fact orbit the Sun. Or not quite in the way we thought, anyway.
A planetary scientist at the Japanese space agency, JAXA, called Dr. James O’Donoghue recently dropped the bomb on Twitter that everything in the solar system actually orbits an invisible centre point.
This invisible centre of mass is called the barycentre – the point at which all material is perfectly balanced on all sides.
And despite our childhood lessons, it turns out that this point is not in the centre of the Sun.
In fact, the Sun itself also has to orbit the barycentre.
O’Donoghue posted a helpful video to YouTube which clarifies things and will one day win you a pub quiz.
He explains: “The natural thinking is that we orbit the sun’s centre, but that very rarely happens.”
Jupiter is a bigger player when it comes to the solar system than many of us knew.
The planet makes up 1.2 percent of the solar system’s mass, and so can have a noticeable impact on the gravitational pull.
However, even O’Donoghue admits that he may be splitting hairs on this one.
It was recently explained by NASA that Jupiter is actually so big that it doesn’t orbit the Sun.
The planet weighs more than twice the mass of all the other planets, moons, asteroids, comets, and more combined.
So what in fact happens is that Jupiter and the Sun both orbit a combined centre of gravity.
And now you are equipped with all the pedantic facts you need for your next visit to the Science Museum.
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