When one planet passes near another during its trip around the sun, does their gravitational pull is strong enough to disrupt noticeably each other's orbit ?


5 Answers 5


It does - although the term 'disrupt' may be a bit too strong to describe the effect; personally, I think 'influence' would fit better.

An interesting consequence of such iterations is something called orbital resonance; after long periods of time - and remember that the current estimate for our planet's existence is 4.54 billion years - the ebb and flow of tiny gravitational pulls cause nearby celestial bodies to develop an interlocked behavior. It's a double-edged sword, though; it may de-estabilize a system, or lock it into stability.

Quoting the Wikipedia entry,

Orbital resonances greatly enhance the mutual gravitational influence of the bodies, i.e., their ability to alter or constrain each other's orbits.

Another gravity-related effect (although, as pointed out by Dieudonné, present only on our solar system between bodies that have very close orbits like the Earth-Moon and Sun-Mercury systems) is known as Tidal locking, or captured rotation.

More about orbital resonance on this ASP Conference Series paper: Renu Malhotra, Orbital Resonances and Chaos in the Solar System.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Tidal locking does not actually happen between planets (in the solar system). It only happens when two bodies are very close in orbit around each other such as in close binary stars or between bodies with large mass differences such as planet moon systems where the smaller body (the moon) is tidally locked to the planet. It can also happen between a star and its planets such as Mercury being locked to the Sun. $\endgroup$
    – Dieudonné
    Jan 29, 2014 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Dieudonné, you're completely right; I actually wanted to mention tidal locking as another noticeable gravitational effect, not just between planets. I'll clarify that on an edit. Thanks for the hint! $\endgroup$
    – OnoSendai
    Jan 29, 2014 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ My pleasure ;-) Orbital resonance is actually a very interesting subject. $\endgroup$
    – Dieudonné
    Jan 29, 2014 at 20:46

Absolutely yes.

In fact, the planet Neptune was discovered only after differences between the observed and calculated orbit of Uranus became apparent, and astronomers were able to make predictions about the position of the 8th planet that were eventually confirmed via telescopes.

A similar process led to the discovery of the now ex-planet Pluto.

  • $\begingroup$ In the case of Pluto, it later turned out that the mass of Pluto was much too small to cause the observed perturbations. Pluto just happened to be near the position that was calculated. $\endgroup$
    – Dieudonné
    Jan 29, 2014 at 18:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Dieudonné So what is the cause? $\endgroup$
    – asawyer
    Jan 29, 2014 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ There was actually no cause. The value of the mass for Neptune was not accurate enough. When they were able to calculate a more accurate mass (when Voyager 2 passed Neptune), and recalculated the orbits, the expected perturbations disappeared. (see Lang (2011) page 437, books.google.nl/…). $\endgroup$
    – Dieudonné
    Jan 29, 2014 at 20:24

Depends on what you would call noticeable. The perturbations between the planets are quite small and you will only notice them if you either measure the positions of the planets very accurately or over a very long period. So don't expect two planets to suddenly change direction and move towards each other.

These effect are so small because planets don't actually get very near to each other. If they did then their orbits would be very unstable. If any such planet existed then they would have collided or been ejected from the solar system long ago.

Of course, if you want to calculate accurate positions then you will have to take these effects into account.


Indeed it was the perturbations of Uranus's orbit that led to the discovery of Neptune - which was itself a major triumph of the scientific process and the mathematician Le Verrier is often credited with the discovery even though he did not actually make the observational discovery.


Yes it does, especially with the gas giants.

Jupiter's magnetic field is so strong it yanks on almost everything in the Solar System. Life on Earth also relies on the Jovian magnetic field, because if Jupiter's magnetic field was not there, the gravity would feel much weaker.

After the discovery of Uranus, astronomers predicted another gas giant beyond Uranus due to Uranus being yanked on by something large, which led to the discovery of Neptune by Urbain Le Verrier and John Galle in September 1846.

The Saturnian magnetic field primarily affects Uranus and Neptune.

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    $\begingroup$ The Jovian and Saturnian magnetic fields may be large, but they have absolutely no effect on those planet's gravities, nor on any other planets. $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2015 at 0:45

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