Science Questions

Do all satellites orbit in the same direction?

Sun, 17th Jan 2010

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Does farting make you weigh less?


Erin Hill-Burns, Via Twitter asked:

Do all satellites around a planet, star, etc orbit in the same direction? If so, why?


Well the answer is, in most cases, yes.  This is because they condense out of whatís called a proplid, or proto-planetary disc. This is a big spinning disc of material which initially starts off as an envelope around a star that forms the centre of the solar system or in a particular galaxy area youíre looking at. 

This disc of matter then condenses or accretes into planetesimals, little objects that accrete more matter to become much bigger objects. And since angular momentum is conserved, this means that they will all be spinning. 

Then, once everything has collided with everything else that itís going to, and when you look at the equations, you end up with a cluster of bodies that are usually all turning in one net direction.

But thatís not to say that big collisions can't come in and then turn things around a bit. Uranus, for example, is turning on itís side, and we think that this is possibly due to a big collision with something else way back in history.

So the answer is yes.  We think things do go around in one direction and in the same plane, but there are exceptions at the level of individual bodies, which can spin in funny directions.


Subscribe Free

Related Content


Make a comment

And man-made satellites can orbit in whatever direction we choose. jpetruccelli, Wed, 20th Jan 2010

They are normally sent off anti clockwise to take advantage of the 1000 mph rotational speed of the earth but of course if there was any good reason to do so they could be sent off the other way at greater cost. syhprum, Wed, 20th Jan 2010

See the whole discussion | Make a comment

Not working please enable javascript
Powered by UKfast
Genetics Society