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United States Naval Academy, Physics Department


Based upon Kepler’s Third Law of Planetary Motion, the mass of a
central body can be calculated from information about the orbits of
its satellites. In this experiment, the four Galilean moons of Jupiter
were observed over the course of a month in order to determine
the semi-major axes and periods of their orbits. This information
was used to calculate the mass of Jupiter.

1. INTRODUCTION from his own observations and those
of Tycho Brahe. Kepler’s third law is
Jupiter, king of the planets, has of importance here because it relates
been known in the skies for all of two measurable aspects of Jupiter’s
recorded history. Its moons, satellites—the semi-major axis of
however, are a more recent their orbit and their period.
discovery. The four brightest, most Newton’s law of universal gravitation
prominent moons of Jupiter—Io, is the missing piece of the puzzle.
Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto—are The first corollary of Proposition VIII
known as the Galilean moons of Newton’s Principia was ground
because they were first observed by breaking because it showed how
Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei. physical information about objects in
When using his new telescope, a system can be gleaned from their
Galileo noticed four bright “stars” motion by deriving the general form
around Jupiter and, to his surprise, of Kepler’s third law (Chandrasekhar
they moved relative to Jupiter like no 1995).
star should have moved (Drake Rearranging Newton’s derivation
1978). Galileo published his findings of Kepler’s third law gives a
and his conclusion that these bright straightforward equation for the
“stars” were in fact planets orbiting calculation of the mass of a central
around Jupiter in 1610 (Kepler object, Equation 1, where a is the
1610). semi-major axis, T is the period of
Johannes Kepler, a prominent the orbit, and G is the universal
astronomer of the seventeenth gravitational constant. This is true
century, had already stated his provided that the central mass is
empirical laws in his published sufficiently greater than the mass of
works, and he was delighted with the orbiting object so that the
Galileo’s publication because it reduced mass of the system is
supported his findings (Kepler 1610). equivalent to the mass of the central
Kepler’s three laws were formulated object.
4π 2 a 3 evening of September 29, 2008.
M = (1)
GT 2 The observations continued for four
weeks, the last being taken on the
In order to determine the mass evening of October 22, 2008, for a
of the central body accurately, total of 15 different data sets.
precise measurements of the semi-
major axis and period of the orbiting 3. OBSERVATIONS
object are needed.
The 15 data sets were split by
the team and reduced down to true
2. METHOD AND EQUIPMENT distances using the Image Reduction
and Analysis Facility program. For
The Galilean moons of Jupiter each normalized image for the
can be seen with the aid of only observation set, the center of Jupiter
binoculars, but something more and the positions of the moons were
accurate is needed to take consistent found in pixels. From this, relative
and precise data. For our images, distances between the moons and
we used the telescope at the United Jupiter were found. The arcseconds
States Naval Academy observatory, a of the sky projected onto each pixel
refracting telescope with a Clark of our telescope and CCD was .
handmade lens of 7¾” aperture. 47492, as calculated in Figure 1,
The focal length of the telescope is based on the pixel size of the CCD
2953 mm. In order to record data, a and the focal length of the telescope.
Santa Barbara Instruments ST-10
CCD with a pixel size of 6.8 microns 1 rad
plate _ scale =
was attached to the telescope. focal _ length mm
During each observing session, 1 rad
ten images of Jupiter and all of its =
2953 mm
visible moons were taken with dark
exposures incorporated by the CCD = .0003386 rad * 206265 arc sec
mm rad
program. These darks were taken = 69.85 arc sec
before each image exposure in order mm
to subtract out the thermal arc sec = 69.85 arc sec * .0068 mm
pix mm pix
properties of the detector. Then
twenty flats were taken of a blank = .47492
Figure 1. Calculation of plate scale in
area of sky. These twenty flats were arcseconds per pixel.
combined into one median flat and
divided by their mean pixel intensity Once the separations of the
value in order to create a normalized moons were known in seconds of
median flat. Each image was divided arc, the small angle approximation
through by this normalized median (Equation 2) could be used in
flat before analysis. conjunction with the known distance
Our team observed every clear to Jupiter to find the actual physical
night possible beginning on the
separations of the moons, where s is
the true distance in the sky, θ is the
Date Callisto +/- Io +/- Europa +/- Ganymede +/-
0.054 1512829 3540 125427 3540 -525910 3540 -885363 3540
3.013 -254262 5095 277778 5095 -612149 5095 1029849 5095
3.962 -880971 3814 -365800 3975 737997 4029
5.192 -1453174 8619 377175 8619 632293 8619
6.004 -1735285 4104 -372980 4104 -868972 4104
7.022 -1804738 3686 208469 4120 -549559 4012 -984447 4283
8.017 -1606038 2023 461048 1740 -362534 1914
13.096 1317503 3206 -362310 3206 -827041 3206
14.083 1686384 4310 257260 4310 -585932 4310 -980856 4310
15.013 1748523 4600 495880 4600 -348122 4600
16.179 1820676 3571 -187048 3571 345507 3571 512813 3571
20.054 -411827 4310 -452912 4310 -702488 4310
21.042 -1026575 1917 329905 3618 -620937 2079 -1073559 1325
22.958 -1750011 2276 236034 2186 599238 2344 140972 3561
23.042 -1761072 2029 130445 2976 555385 2119 211999 2074
Table 1. Observational data. Date from 0000 30Sep2008 (UT), distances in km. Negative
values indicate a position east relative to Jupiter.

projected angle in radians and d is
the distance from the Earth to 4. ANALYSIS AND RESULTS
Jupiter. The Earth-Jupiter distance
was referenced from the In order to determine the semi-
Astronomical Almanac (2007). major axis and period of each moon,
we modeled the data for each orbit
s = θd (2) as a sine wave as shown in Figures
2-5. Using LoggerPro software, we
were able to determine best fit
The dates and times of the
values for the semi-major axis and
observations were converted to
period of each moon’s orbit. We
decimals dates beginning at midnight
were able to determine a margin of
Universal Time on the morning of
error from how well the data
September 30, 2008. The distances
matched up to the fit line, which was
of each moon, in kilometers, for
important because the error resulting
each observed night were compiled
from our observations was
together into Table 1 for the team to
negligible, as shown by the plotted
analyze. Negative numbers were
error bars. The best fit values for
used to represent distances to the
each orbit and the calculated mass
east of Jupiter and positive numbers
of Jupiter from those parameters are
to represent distances to the west.
shown in Tables 2-5. We also
Error was determined in pixels by
calculated the statistical coefficients
each group as they reduced the data
of determination, R2, to evaluate the
in IRAF, converted into kilometers,
closeness of the fits, as seen in
and carried forward through the
Table 6.

Observed Data Line Fit to Data



Distance from Jupiter (km)



0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25





Figure 2. Callisto.

a (m) (1.8412 ± 0.0142) x 109
T (s) (1.4485 ± 0.0049) x 106
M (kg) (1.7602 ± 0.0425) x 1027
Table 2. Callisto.





Distance from Jupiter (km)


0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25






Figure 3. Io.

a (m) (4.1460 ± 0.1340) x 108
T (s) (1.5275 ± 0.0016) x 105
M (kg) (1.8072 ± 0.1753) x 1027
Table 3. Io.

Observed Data Line Fit to Data


Distance from Jupiter (km)


0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25




Figure 4. Ganymede.

a (m) (1.0548 ± 0.0248) x 109
T (s) (6.2049 ± 0.0231) x 105
M (kg) (1.8034 ± 0.1278) x 1027
Table 4. Ganymede.


Observed Data Line Fit to Data



Distance from Jupiter (km)


0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25




Figure 5. Europa.

a (m) (6.9660 ± 0.1474) x 108
T (s) (3.0481 ± 0.0066) x 105
M (kg) (2.1526 ± 0.1370) x 1027
Table 5. Europa.
Callisto 0.980 Getting observations every
Ganymede 0.709 night for a good length of time was
Europa 0.978 vital to successful data.
Io 0.983 Unfortunately the weather does not
Table 6. Coefficients of determination. always cooperate with astronomical
desires, and so many nights of data
Using the amplitudes and periods were lost in this way. This is
of the fitted sinusoid and Equation 1, especially problematic for the two
a mass for Jupiter was determined moons closest to Jupiter, Io and
for each moon with an uncertainty Europa, whose positions change
based on how well the sine curve fit drastically from night to night. Some
our data. These were then averaged of the most useful data points in the
together to arrive at a combined sine fitting were the last two data
value for Jupiter’s mass. However, points, which we took 3 hours apart.
we realized that some of the masses In order to get a better fit and more
were likely to be more accurate due accurate results, many such spaced
to how well the individual sine observations would be crucial.
curves fit each moon. Our final When we first collected all of
mass of Jupiter was calculated as an our data, there was an odd problem.
average of the four moons’ The periods evaluated for each of
calculated value weighted by their the four moons were consistent with
correlation coefficient. Using this previous values, but the semi-major
method we found the mass of axes were too short by a factor of
Jupiter to be (1.8864 ± 0.1753) x about 10% for every moon. We
1027 kg. examined our process and our data
in order to determine the source of
5. DISCUSSION what appeared to be a systematic
error, but nothing could account for
There were a few difficult spots such a big discrepancy. Inclination,
during this experiment. The which we had assumed to be
observations themselves had to be negligible, was calculated and found
well taken, which meant that the to not be a factor. Our math was
CCD had to be in focus. The correct, and each part of the team
extension of the barrel to achieve had independently arrived at semi-
good focus was tricky to find major axes which were uniformly too
because we couldn’t observe how short. After much searching, it was
the image changed as we moved it. discovered that a parameter of the
Instead we had to move the barrel, CCD, the microns per pixel, had been
attempt a picture, see how it turned misreported, which introduced an
out and adjust accordingly. Once error of a factor of 1.1146 which
the focal length was established, perfectly accounted for our
however, we were able to mark it discrepancy. After this was applied,
and use the same length every time all of our measured values became
under the assumption that the consistent with accepted values.
ambient temperature was the same.

We conclude that the mass of
Jupiter is (1.8864 ± 0.1753) x 1027
kg. This value concurs with 1.8988 x
1027 kg, the accepted value of the
mass of Jupiter from previous
experiments as reported by the
Astronomical Almanac (2007).

Much acknowledgement and many
thanks go to my partner, Cody
Forsythe, who worked with me for all
our assigned observations, data
reduction, and analysis, and whose
help was invaluable. Thanks go to
the rest of the team as well: N.
Backstrom, S. Lozano, C. Navarro, K.
Devers-Jones, J. Walker, and E.


Chandrasekhar, Subrahmanyan
1995, Newton’s Principia for the
Common Reader, Clarendon Press,
New York, 373.

Drake, Stillman 1978, Galileo at
Work: His Scientific Biography,
University of Chicago Press, Chicago,

Kepler, Johannes 1610, Conversation
with Galileo’s Sidereal Messenger,
Johnson Reprint Corporation, New
York, 14.

The Astronomical Almanac for the
Year 2008, Nautical Almanac Office
United States Naval Observatory
2007, Washington, E4, E29.