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Astronomy 2e

Figuring for Yourself

Astronomy 2eFiguring for Yourself

Figuring for Yourself


Assume that the Sun orbits the center of the Galaxy at a speed of 220 km/s and a distance of 26,000 light-years from the center.

  1. Calculate the circumference of the Sun’s orbit, assuming it to be approximately circular. (Remember that the circumference of a circle is given by 2πR, where R is the radius of the circle. Be sure to use consistent units. The conversion from light-years to km/s can be found in an online calculator or appendix, or you can calculate it for yourself: the speed of light is 300,000 km/s, and you can determine the number of seconds in a year.)
  2. Calculate the Sun’s period, the “galactic year.” Again, be careful with the units. Does it agree with the number we gave above?

The Sun orbits the center of the Galaxy in 225 million years at a distance of 26,000 light-years. Given that a3=(M1+M2)×P2,a3=(M1+M2)×P2, where a is the semimajor axis and P is the orbital period, what is the mass of the Galaxy within the Sun’s orbit?


Suppose the Sun orbited a little farther out, but the mass of the Galaxy inside its orbit remained the same as we calculated in Exercise 25.19. What would be its period at a distance of 30,000 light-years?


We have said that the Galaxy rotates differentially; that is, stars in the inner parts complete a full 360° orbit around the center of the Galaxy more rapidly than stars farther out. Use Kepler’s third law and the mass we derived in Exercise 25.19 to calculate the period of a star that is only 5000 light-years from the center. Now do the same calculation for a globular cluster at a distance of 50,000 light-years. Suppose the Sun, this star, and the globular cluster all fall on a straight line through the center of the Galaxy. Where will they be relative to each other after the Sun completes one full journey around the center of the Galaxy? (Assume that all the mass in the Galaxy is concentrated at its center.)


If our solar system is 4.6 billion years old, how many galactic years has planet Earth been around?


Suppose the average mass of a star in the Galaxy is one-third of a solar mass. Use the value for the mass of the Galaxy that we calculated in Exercise 25.19, and estimate how many stars are in the Milky Way. Give some reasons it is reasonable to assume that the mass of an average star is less than the mass of the Sun.


The first clue that the Galaxy contains a lot of dark matter was the observation that the orbital velocities of stars did not decreases with increasing distance from the center of the Galaxy. Construct a rotation curve for the solar system by using the orbital velocities of the planets, which can be found in Appendix F. How does this curve differ from the rotation curve for the Galaxy? What does it tell you about where most of the mass in the solar system is concentrated?


The best evidence for a black hole at the center of the Galaxy also comes from the application of Kepler’s third law. Suppose a star at a distance of 20 light-hours from the center of the Galaxy has an orbital speed of 6200 km/s. How much mass must be located inside its orbit?


The next step in deciding whether the object in Exercise 25.25 is a black hole is to estimate the density of this mass. Assume that all of the mass is spread uniformly throughout a sphere with a radius of 20 light-hours. What is the density in kg/km3? (Remember that the volume of a sphere is given by V=43πR3V=43πR3.) Explain why the density might be even higher than the value you have calculated. How does this density compare with that of the Sun or other objects we have talked about in this book?


Suppose the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy merges completely with the Milky Way and adds 150,000 stars to it. Estimate the percentage change in the mass of the Milky Way. Will this be enough mass to affect the orbit of the Sun around the galactic center? Assume that all of the Sagittarius galaxy’s stars end up in the nuclear bulge of the Milky Way Galaxy and explain your answer.

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