Celestial mechanics

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Celestial mechanics is the branch of astronomy that deals with the motions of celestial objects. The field applies principles of physics, historically classical mechanics, to astronomical objects such as stars and planets to produce ephemeris data. Orbital mechanics (astrodynamics) is a subfield which focuses on the orbits of artificial satellites. Lunar theory is another subfield focusing on the orbit of the Moon.

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History of celestial mechanics

Modern analytic celestial mechanics started over 300 years ago with Isaac Newton's Principia of 1687. The name "celestial mechanics" is more recent than that. Newton wrote that the field should be called "rational mechanics." The term "dynamics" came in a little later with Gottfried Leibniz, and over a century after Newton, Pierre-Simon Laplace introduced the term "celestial mechanics." Nevertheless, prior studies addressing the problem of planetary positions are known going back perhaps 3,000 or more years, as early as the Babylonian astronomers.

Classical Greek writers speculated widely regarding celestial motions, and presented many geometrical mechanisms to model the motions of the planets. Their models employed combinations of uniform circular motion and were centered on the earth. An independent philosophical tradition was concerned with the physical causes of such circular motions. An extraordinary figure among the ancient Greek astronomers is Aristarchus of Samos (310 BC - c.230 BC), who suggested a heliocentric model of the universe and attempted to measure Earth's distance from the Sun.

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