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Daily Archives: 1-March-2016
While listening to the audio book The Search for Exoplanets: What Astronomers Know, I heard the lecturer (Professor Joshua Winn) mention the Roche limit and gave a simple approximate formula for evaluating it. The Roche limit provides a lower boundary on how close a satellite may revolve around a planet or star. It is based on the idea that the gravitational and centrifugal forces of the planet work to pull a satellite apart, while the self-gravity of the satellite tends to hold it together. The Roche limit is where these forces are in balance – any closer and the satellite's gravity will be weaker than the centrifugal force plus the planet or star's gravity. Within the Roche limit, the satellite is subject to forces that tend to break it apart. Satellites moving inside the Roche limit are thought to be one way that planetary rings are formed. Continue reading