Page:A short history of astronomy(1898).djvu/276

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216
[Ch. IX.
A Short History of Astronomy

the sun in a path which does not differ much from a circle. If we assume for the present that the path is actually a circle, the planet must have an acceleration towards the centre, and it is possible to attribute this to the influence of the central body, the sun. In this way arises the idea of attributing to the sun the power of influencing in some way a planet which revolves round it, so as to give it an acceleration towards the sun; and the question at once arises of how this "influence" differs at different distances. To answer this question Newton made use of Kepler's Third Law (chapter vii., § 144). We have seen that, according to this law, the squares of the times of revolution of any two planets are proportional to the cubes of their distances from the sun; but the velocity of the planet may be found by dividing the length of the path it travels in its revolution round the sun by the time of the revolution, and this length is again proportional to the distance of the planet from the sun. Hence the velocities of the two planets are proportional to their distances from the sun, divided by the times of revolution, and consequently the squares of the velocities are proportional to the squares of the distances from the sun divided by the squares of the times of revolution. Hence, by Kepler's law, the squares of the velocities are proportional to the squares of the distances divided by the cubes of the distances, that is the squares of the velocities are inversely proportional to the distances, the more distant planet having the less velocity and vice versa. Now by the formula of Huygens the acceleration is measured by the square of the velocity divided by the radius of the circle (which in this case is the distance of the planet from the sun). The accelerations of the two planets towards the sun are therefore inversely proportional to the distances each multiplied by itself, that is are inversely proportional to the squares of the distances. Newton's first result therefore is: that the motions of the planets—regarded as moving in circles, and in strict accordance with Kepler's Third Law—can be explained as due to the action of the sun, if the sun is supposed capable of producing on a planet an acceleration towards the sun itself which is proportional to the inverse square of its distance from