A sphere of influence (SOI) in astrodynamics and astronomy is the oblate-spheroid-shaped region where a particular celestial body exerts the main gravitational influence on an orbiting object. This is usually used to describe the areas in the Solar System where planets dominate the orbits of surrounding objects such as moons, despite the presence of the much more massive but distant Sun.

In the patched conic approximation, used in estimating the trajectories of bodies moving between the neighbourhoods of different bodies using a two-body approximation, ellipses and hyperbolae, the SOI is taken as the boundary where the trajectory switches which mass field it is influenced by. It is not to be confused with the sphere of activity which extends well beyond the sphere of influence.[1]

Models

The most common base models to calculate the sphere of influence is the Hill sphere and the Laplace sphere, but updated and particularly more dynamic ones have been described.[2][3] The general equation describing the radius of the sphere ${\displaystyle r_{\text{SOI))}$ of a planet:[4] ${\displaystyle r_{\text{SOI))\approx a\left({\frac {m}{M))\right)^{2/5))$ where

• ${\displaystyle a}$ is the semimajor axis of the smaller object's (usually a planet's) orbit around the larger body (usually the Sun).
• ${\displaystyle m}$ and ${\displaystyle M}$ are the masses of the smaller and the larger object (usually a planet and the Sun), respectively.

In the patched conic approximation, once an object leaves the planet's SOI, the primary/only gravitational influence is the Sun (until the object enters another body's SOI). Because the definition of rSOI relies on the presence of the Sun and a planet, the term is only applicable in a three-body or greater system and requires the mass of the primary body to be much greater than the mass of the secondary body. This changes the three-body problem into a restricted two-body problem.

The table shows the values of the sphere of gravity of the bodies of the solar system in relation to the Sun (with the exception of the Moon which is reported relative to Earth):[4][5][6][7][8][9][10]

Body SOI Body Diameter Body Mass (1024 kg) Distance from Sun
(106 km) (mi) (radii) (km) (mi) (AU) (106 mi) (106 km)
Mercury 0.117 72,700 46 4,878 3,031 0.33 0.39 36 57.9
Venus 0.616 382,765 102 12,104 7,521 4.867 0.723 67.2 108.2
Earth + Moon 0.929 577,254 145 12,742 (Earth) 7,918 (Earth) 5.972
(Earth)
1 93 149.6
Moon 0.0643 39,993 37 3,476 2,160 0.07346 See Earth + Moon
Mars 0.578 359,153 170 6,780 4,212 0.65 1.524 141.6 227.9
Jupiter 48.2 29,950,092 687 139,822 86,881 1900 5.203 483.6 778.3
Saturn 54.5 38,864,730 1025 116,464 72,367 570 9.539 886.7 1,427.0
Uranus 51.9 32,249,165 2040 50,724 31,518 87 19.18 1,784.0 2,871.0
Neptune 86.2 53,562,197 3525 49,248 30,601 100 30.06 2,794.4 4,497.1

An important understanding to be drawn from the above table is that "Sphere of Influence" here is "Primary". For example, though Jupiter is much larger in mass than say, Neptune, its Primary SOI is much smaller due to Jupiter's much closer proximity to the Sun.

Increased accuracy on the SOI

The Sphere of influence is, in fact, not quite a sphere. The distance to the SOI depends on the angular distance ${\displaystyle \theta }$ from the massive body. A more accurate formula is given by[4] ${\displaystyle r_{\text{SOI))(\theta )\approx a\left({\frac {m}{M))\right)^{2/5}{\frac {1}{\sqrt[{10}]{1+3\cos ^{2}(\theta )))))$

Averaging over all possible directions we get: ${\displaystyle {\overline {r_{\text{SOI))))=0.9431a\left({\frac {m}{M))\right)^{2/5))$

Derivation

Consider two point masses ${\displaystyle A}$ and ${\displaystyle B}$ at locations ${\displaystyle r_{A))$ and ${\displaystyle r_{B))$, with mass ${\displaystyle m_{A))$ and ${\displaystyle m_{B))$ respectively. The distance ${\displaystyle R=|r_{B}-r_{A}|}$ separates the two objects. Given a massless third point ${\displaystyle C}$ at location ${\displaystyle r_{C))$, one can ask whether to use a frame centered on ${\displaystyle A}$ or on ${\displaystyle B}$ to analyse the dynamics of ${\displaystyle C}$.

Consider a frame centered on ${\displaystyle A}$. The gravity of ${\displaystyle B}$ is denoted as ${\displaystyle g_{B))$ and will be treated as a perturbation to the dynamics of ${\displaystyle C}$ due to the gravity ${\displaystyle g_{A))$ of body ${\displaystyle A}$. Due to their gravitational interactions, point ${\displaystyle A}$ is attracted to point ${\displaystyle B}$ with acceleration ${\displaystyle a_{A}={\frac {Gm_{B)){R^{3))}(r_{B}-r_{A})}$, this frame is therefore non-inertial. To quantify the effects of the perturbations in this frame, one should consider the ratio of the perturbations to the main body gravity i.e. ${\displaystyle \chi _{A}={\frac {|g_{B}-a_{A}|}{|g_{A}|))}$. The perturbation ${\displaystyle g_{B}-a_{A))$ is also known as the tidal forces due to body ${\displaystyle B}$. It is possible to construct the perturbation ratio ${\displaystyle \chi _{B))$ for the frame centered on ${\displaystyle B}$ by interchanging ${\displaystyle A\leftrightarrow B}$.

Frame A Frame B
Main acceleration ${\displaystyle g_{A))$ ${\displaystyle g_{B))$
Frame acceleration ${\displaystyle a_{A))$ ${\displaystyle a_{B))$
Secondary acceleration ${\displaystyle g_{B))$ ${\displaystyle g_{A))$
Perturbation, tidal forces ${\displaystyle g_{B}-a_{A))$ ${\displaystyle g_{A}-a_{B))$
Perturbation ratio ${\displaystyle \chi }$ ${\displaystyle \chi _{A}={\frac {|g_{B}-a_{A}|}{|g_{A}|))}$ ${\displaystyle \chi _{B}={\frac {|g_{A}-a_{B}|}{|g_{B}|))}$

As ${\displaystyle C}$ gets close to ${\displaystyle A}$, ${\displaystyle \chi _{A}\rightarrow 0}$ and ${\displaystyle \chi _{B}\rightarrow \infty }$, and vice versa. The frame to choose is the one that has the smallest perturbation ratio. The surface for which ${\displaystyle \chi _{A}=\chi _{B))$ separates the two regions of influence. In general this region is rather complicated but in the case that one mass dominates the other, say ${\displaystyle m_{A}\ll m_{B))$, it is possible to approximate the separating surface. In such a case this surface must be close to the mass ${\displaystyle A}$, denote ${\displaystyle r}$ as the distance from ${\displaystyle A}$ to the separating surface.

Frame A Frame B
Main acceleration ${\displaystyle g_{A}={\frac {Gm_{A)){r^{2))))$ ${\displaystyle g_{B}\approx {\frac {Gm_{B)){R^{2))}+{\frac {Gm_{B)){R^{3))}r\approx {\frac {Gm_{B)){R^{2))))$
Frame acceleration ${\displaystyle a_{A}={\frac {Gm_{B)){R^{2))))$ ${\displaystyle a_{B}={\frac {Gm_{A)){R^{2))}\approx 0}$
Secondary acceleration ${\displaystyle g_{B}\approx {\frac {Gm_{B)){R^{2))}+{\frac {Gm_{B)){R^{3))}r}$ ${\displaystyle g_{A}={\frac {Gm_{A)){r^{2))))$
Perturbation, tidal forces ${\displaystyle g_{B}-a_{A}\approx {\frac {Gm_{B)){R^{3))}r}$ ${\displaystyle g_{A}-a_{B}\approx {\frac {Gm_{A)){r^{2))))$
Perturbation ratio ${\displaystyle \chi }$ ${\displaystyle \chi _{A}\approx {\frac {m_{B)){m_{A))}{\frac {r^{3)){R^{3))))$ ${\displaystyle \chi _{B}\approx {\frac {m_{A)){m_{B))}{\frac {R^{2)){r^{2))))$

The distance to the sphere of influence must thus satisfy ${\displaystyle {\frac {m_{B)){m_{A))}{\frac {r^{3)){R^{3))}={\frac {m_{A)){m_{B))}{\frac {R^{2)){r^{2))))$ and so ${\displaystyle r=R\left({\frac {m_{A)){m_{B))}\right)^{2/5))$ is the radius of the sphere of influence of body ${\displaystyle A}$

Gravity well

Gravity well is a metaphorical name for the sphere of influence, highlighting the gravitational potential that shapes a sphere of influence, and that needs to be accounted for to escape or stay in the sphere of influence.

References

1. ^ Souami, D.; Cresson, J.; Biernacki, C.; Pierret, F. (2020). "On the local and global properties of gravitational spheres of influence". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 496 (4): 4287–4297. arXiv:2005.13059. doi:10.1093/mnras/staa1520.
2. ^ Cavallari, Irene; Grassi, Clara; Gronchi, Giovanni F.; Baù, Giulio; Valsecchi, Giovanni B. (2023). "A dynamical definition of the sphere of influence of the Earth". Communications in Nonlinear Science and Numerical Simulation. 119. Elsevier BV: 107091. arXiv:2205.09340. Bibcode:2023CNSNS.11907091C. doi:10.1016/j.cnsns.2023.107091. ISSN 1007-5704. S2CID 248887659.
3. ^ Araujo, R. A. N.; Winter, O. C.; Prado, A. F. B. A.; Vieira Martins, R. (2008-12-01). "Sphere of influence and gravitational capture radius: a dynamical approach". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 391 (2). Oxford University Press (OUP): 675–684. Bibcode:2008MNRAS.391..675A. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2008.13833.x. hdl:11449/42361. ISSN 0035-8711.
4. ^ a b c Seefelder, Wolfgang (2002). Lunar Transfer Orbits Utilizing Solar Perturbations and Ballistic Capture. Munich: Herbert Utz Verlag. p. 76. ISBN 3-8316-0155-0. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
5. ^
6. ^ The Size of Planets, 23 May 2013
7. ^ How Big Is the Moon?, 4 June 2012
8. ^ The Mass of Planets, 9 May 2012
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10. ^