Sphere of influence (astrodynamics)

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For the term relating to black holes, see sphere of influence (black hole).

A sphere of influence (SOI) in astrodynamics and astronomy is the oblate-spheroid-shaped region around a celestial body where the primary gravitational influence on an orbiting object is that body. This is usually used to describe the areas in the Solar System where planets dominate the orbits of surrounding objects (such as moons), despite the presence of the much more massive (but distant) Sun. In a more general sense, the patched conic approximation is only valid within the SOI.

The general equation describing the radius of the sphere r_{SOI} of a planet:

r_{SOI} = a\left(\frac{m}{M}\right)^{2/5}

where

a is the semimajor axis of the smaller object's (usually a planet's) orbit around the larger body (usually the Sun).
m and M are the masses of the smaller and the larger object (usually a planet and the Sun), respectively.

In the patched conic approximation, once an object leaves the planet's SOI, the primary/only gravitational influence is the Sun (until the object enters another body's SOI). Because the definition of rSOI relies on the presence of the Sun and a planet, the term is only applicable in a three-body or greater system and requires the mass of the primary body to be much greater than the mass of the secondary body. This changes the three-body problem into a restricted two-body problem.

Table of planetary SOI radii[edit]

Body SOI radius (gigameters) SOI radius (× body radius)
Mercury 0.112 45
Venus 0.616 100
Earth 0.925 145
Moon 0.0661 38
Mars 0.577 170
Jupiter 48.2 677
Saturn 54.8 901
Uranus 51.7 2025
Neptune 86.7 3866
Pluto 34.1 14400

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Bate, Roger R.; Donald D. Mueller; Jerry E. White (1971). Fundamentals of Astrodynamics. New York: Dover Publications. pp. 333–334. ISBN 0-486-60061-0. 
  • Sellers, Jerry J.; Astore, William J.; Giffen, Robert B.; Larson, Wiley J. (2004). Kirkpatrick, Douglas H., ed. Understanding Space: An Introduction to Astronautics (2 ed.). McGraw Hill. pp. 228,738. ISBN 0-07-294364-5.