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14.16: Kepler's Second Law of Planetary Motion

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Kepler's Second Law of Planetary Motion

14.16: Kepler's Second Law of Planetary Motion

In the early 17th century, German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler postulated three laws for the motion of planets in the solar system. His first law states that all planets orbit the Sun in an elliptical orbit, with the Sun at one of the ellipse's foci. Therefore, the distance of a planet from the Sun varies throughout its revolution around the Sun.

While in an elliptical orbit, the total energy of the planet is conserved. Therefore, the planet slows down when it is at apogee and speeds up when it is at perigee. These conclusions led Kepler to state his second law, that the radius vector of the planet sweeps out in equal areas in equal time. This means that if a planet takes the same time to travel from A to A1, and then from B to B1, then the areas AF1A1 and BF1B1 are equal, as shown in Figure 1.


Since the area is constant in a given time interval, the planet's sector velocity remains constant. Since the sector velocity is proportional to the planet's angular momentum, Kepler’s second law implies that the angular momentum of a planet in an elliptical orbit is conserved.

This text is adapted from Openstax, University Physics Volume 1, Section 13.5 Kepler’s Laws of Motion.


Kepler's Second Law Planetary Motion Orbits Elliptical Orbit Foci Distance From The Sun Total Energy Conservation Apogee Perigee Radius Vector Equal Areas In Equal Time Sector Velocity Angular Momentum

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