Is our Sun growing old? Mercury’s changing orbit reveals the fact! (Source: NASA)
The closest planet to the Sun, Mercury, is observing changes in its orbit, and studies from NASA say that this change means our Sun is ageing.
Scientists at the National Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say that the Sun is losing its mass and weakening its gravitational pull. The study came after indirectly measuring the mass loss and other solar parameters by the scientists by looking at changes in Mercury’s orbit.
The researchers found key details to record the rate of solar mass loss because it is related to the stability of the gravitational constant, G, whether the value of G is constant or not is a fundamental question in Physics.
Antonio Genova, researcher at MIT and currently working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, said, “Mercury is the perfect test object for these experiments because it is so sensitive to the gravitational effect and activity of the Sun.”
The scientists had studied Mercury’s motion since a long time and had also plotted a road map of Mercury’s orbit called ‘ephemeris’ to study its closest point and farthest point from the Sun.
Several other factors like Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which proves that as a result of Sun’s own gravity it is capable of distorting space time, can be a reason for Mercury’s orbit change.
The Sun’s interior structure and dynamics can also impact the orbit of the planet. One of the dynamics is oblateness, which measures the bulges at the middle, rather than being a perfect sphere.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, helped the team develop a technique to learn more about the interplay between the Sun and the planets, and also simultaneously examined the orbits of Mercury and MESSENGER spacecraft that probed Mercury until its demise is 2015.