Gravitational Ballet

I just wasted my entire coffee break playing with this!

It’s a celestial mechanics simulator. You can build your own tiny solar system with up to four objects (planets or stars), set their masses and velocities, then hit the start button and watch ’em go. Setting up a system of planets that don’t all crash and burn is a lot tougher than it looks, seemingly — though if you have no luck creating your own, there’s a drop down menu in the top right with a bunch of presets. One called “Four Star Ballet” is particularly mind boggling!

It seems this place has quite a few other simulation widgets too…

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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4 Responses to Gravitational Ballet

  1. One reason it’s hard to get stability is that everything’s in one plane. Things wouldn’t hit each other or be near each other (and therefore yank on each other) so much with 3D. But then it would be even harder to understand.

    • invaderxan says:

      To be honest, I’m not convinced that 3 dimensions would make such a system significantly more stable. That would make for two interlocking binary orbits. I’d imagine systems like that would probably rapidly spiral into chaos (rather literally). Though in fairness, I don’t really want to do the mathematics right now, so feel free to prove me wrong!

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