What Is The Barycenter?

The barycenter is the point where two celestial bodies orbit one another.
The barycenter is the point where two celestial bodies orbit one another.

The barycenter is a significant concept in the fields of astrophysics and astronomy. It is the point around which two celestial bodies orbit each other. Stars and planets in space orbit around their shared center of mass which is what is called the barycenter. Barycenters aid astronomers in looking for planets beyond the known solar system.

Center Of Mass

Each object possesses a center of mass which is the precise center of the materials an object is comprised of. The center of mass of a specific object is the point where it can be balanced. The center of mass can be located in the center of an object or another part. The center of mass is also referred to as the center of gravity. In space, two celestial objects of different masses also have a point at which they will balance. Where two bodies have the same masses, the barycenter will lie directly in the middle of the two bodies. However, if the bodies have different masses, the barycenter will be located close to the body with the larger mass.

Barycenter Of The Solar System

The prevailing belief is that the planets orbit around the sun. The sun and the planets, however, orbit around a center of mass. The sun possesses more than 99% of the solar system's mass. The barycenter of the solar system is thus near to the sun's surface, and sometimes it falls within the Sun itself. The solar system's barycenter is constantly shifting since the planets are always in motion. The location of the planets determines the position of the barycenter. Jupiter and Saturn, being the largest planets, significantly influence the barycenter's position. Barycenters also exist between two planets. The barycenter between the sun and Earth is located close to the sun's center because the mass of Earth in comparison to that of the sun is small. While Jupiter is not as small as Earth, its mass is still small relative to that of the sun. Since Jupiter adds extra weight, however, the barycenter moves from the center of the sun. This phenomenon causes the sun to wobble slightly as Jupiter orbits around it.

Planets And Moons

The moons orbiting the various planets also have barycenters. The Earth possesses one moon, and the barycenter of the two bodies is situated 1,710 kilometers below the Earth's surface. Earth is larger than the moon, and it is at this position that both of them seem to revolve around. Pluto and its biggest moon Charon have their barycenter about 600 miles above Pluto's surface. A section of astronomers regards Pluto and Charon as a binary planet. Earth and Moon fail to be categorized as a binary planet since the barycenter is in the Earth's interior rather than at a point between them.

Importance Of The Barycenter

Barycenters are useful for astronomers seeking to identify new planets around stars that are outside our solar system. A star and a planet will typically revolve around a common center, and since the star is larger, the center of mass lies within the star. The star thus wobbles along its path and astronomers will take this as an indication of an existing planet. Extrasolar planets are not easy to sight directly since they are hidden by the glare of the stars. Multiple planets of this kind have been identified with this approach.


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