Why Awesome Orbits Are Fundamental to The Geography of Nature?


by Dr Qudsia Gani

Orbital motion is characterized by the motion of particles or objects about some other objects.  From the motion of electrons around the atomic nucleus to that of planets around the sun or the motion around galactic centres, circles are fundamental in the geometry of nature. Circles have a beauty and a spirit.

The Solar System, artists drawing

It is said that most things look beautiful when arranged in a circle.  Since a circle doesn’t have a beginning or an end, it is also the reflection of eternity. A circle may be small, yet it may be mathematically as beautiful and perfect as a large one.

“The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second, and throughout nature, this primary figure is repeated without end,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of America’s best public speakers. “It is the highest emblem in the cipher of the world.”

When sunlight and raindrops combine to make a rainbow, it is a whole circle of light in the sky and a very rare sight. Pilots do sometimes report seeing genuine full-circle rainbows because they have a much better view from upfront.

We came whirling out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust. The stars made a circle, and in the middle, we dance,” thus wrote Rumi.

Circular orbits are the result of a perfect balance between the forward motion of a body in space, such as a planet or moon, and the pull of gravity on it from another body in space.

Who or what kept the heavenly bodies at perfect places of balance is very unlikely to be a matter of chance.  If the sun is pulling the planets, the question is why don’t they just fall in and burn up. The reason is that planets are also moving sideways. This is the same as if there is a ball on the end of a string and we swing it around, constantly pulling it toward our hand.

Similarly, the gravity of the sun pulls the planet in, but the sideways motion keeps the ball swinging around. Without that, it would fall to the centre; and without the pull toward the centre, it would go flying off in a straight line, which is, of course, exactly what happens if we let go of the string.

An image of Holy Kaaba

The Quran asserts that God has enslaved the sun and the moon, all moving to a pre-recorded destiny. Further in verse 15 of chapter 16, the Quran says that the mountains have been called as pegs which prevent the earth from shaking.

Geological researches also ascertain that the mountains are fixed firmly in the earth and that they stabilise it. The roots of the mountains beneath the surface of the earth are several times deeper than the height above the surface.

In most images, the solar system is shown with a tilted perspective, and so the orbits appear highly elliptical. In reality, the orbits of most planets are extremely circular. If we were to draw earth’s orbit as a perfect circle 100 meters (328 ft) across, it would be accurate to earth’s actual orbit with 14 millimetres (0.5 inches) error.

When Johannes Kepler proposed his model for planetary motion, only the orbits of Mercury and Mars were known to be non-circular but that they are truly elliptical was not so clear. So Kepler’s model wasn’t fully accepted until Newton developed his theory of universal gravity in the late 1600s.

Kepler’s laws, as they have come to be known, were a beautiful but approximate consequence of a deeper gravitational truth and merely an argument for simplicity. Newton, however, showed that a single planet orbiting the sun would have an elliptical orbit, but in the real solar system planets tug upon each other gravitationally, and their orbits are perturbed slightly from a perfect ellipse. In reality, no planet has a truly elliptical orbit but rather more of circular type.

The circumambulating acts of worship add grace to the beauty of this concept. Circumambulation is not exclusive to Judaism or Islam or Christianity; it is rather one of the few rituals universally attested amongst faiths and creeds from all the four corners of the globe.

Apart from Abrahamic faiths, circumambulation is also mentioned in Buddhist and Brahmanical texts. It seems to converge all faiths. Circular appearances in nature are often thought to offer some secondary meaning.

Qudsia Gani

Bare areas of the earth have circular patterns of wild crops and grass whose origin and distribution remains unexplained. Fairy circles in Africa embody a similar degree of mystery with some terming them the “footprints of God.” We live in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork, we must make a decision. But imagine a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will, therefore, draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre. There are as many paths to God-realisation as the number of individuals and their respective temperaments. God is at the centre of our existence.

(Author teaches Physics at the Government Degree College for Women, M A Road, Srinagar. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)


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