Parallax method, 61-Cygni and the Hipporcas mission

It is trivial for most astronomy textbooks to illustrate the parallax method as follows:

This is absolutely fascinating, but it was really hard to find actual images of stars in books that illustrate this.

This is the proper motion of 61-Cygni, a binary star system over a span of couple of years.



61 Cygni showing proper motion at one year intervals


But Bessel discovered that in addition to this proper motion, 61-Cygni also wobbled a little bit from side to side because of the parallax during observation.

The following is a plot of the motion of 61 Cygni – A which beautifully  elucidates the proper motion and the effect of parallax (i.e the wiggle of the blue line with respect to the mean free path)

In addition, if you would like to actually play around with data for yourself, the The Hipparcos Space Astrometry Mission might interest you a lot. The mission was Launched in August 1989 and successfully observed the celestial sphere for 3.5 years before operations ceased in March 1993 employ

The documentation and the catalogue are fairly clear ,  instructive and easy to use. Have fun!

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Using Complex numbers in Classical Mechanics

When one is solving problems on the two dimensional plane and you are using polar coordinates, it is always a challenge to remember what the velocity/acceleration in the radial and angular directions (v_r , v_{\theta}, a_r, a_{\theta} ) are. Here’s one failsafe way using complex numbers that made things really easy :

z = re^{i \theta}

\dot{z} = \dot{r}e^{i \theta} + ir\dot{\theta}e^{i \theta} = (\dot{r} + ir\dot{\theta} ) e^{i \theta}

From the above expression, we can obtain v_r = \dot{r} and v_{\theta} = r\dot{\theta}

\ddot{z} =  (\ddot{r} + ir\ddot{\theta} + i\dot{r}\dot{\theta} ) e^{i \theta}   + (\dot{r} + ir\dot{\theta} )i \dot{\theta} e^{i \theta} 

\ddot{z} =  (\ddot{r} + ir\ddot{\theta} + i\dot{r}\dot{\theta}  + i  \dot{r} \dot{\theta} - r\dot{\theta}\dot{\theta} )e^{i \theta} 

\ddot{z} =  (\ddot{r} - r(\dot{\theta})^2+ i(r\ddot{\theta} + 2\dot{r}\dot{\theta} ) )e^{i \theta} 

From this we can obtain a_r = \ddot{r} - r(\dot{\theta})^2 and a_{\theta} = (r\ddot{\theta} + 2\dot{r}\dot{\theta}) with absolute ease.

Something that I realized only after a mechanics course in college was done and dusted but nevertheless a really cool and interesting place where complex numbers come in handy!

 

 

Prof.Ghrist at his best!

Screenshot from 2017-07-28 10:55:27

To understand why this is true, we must start with the Fundamental Theorem of Vector calculus. If F  is a conservative field ( i.e F = \nabla \phi  ), then

\int\limits_{A}^{B} F.dr = \int\limits_{A}^{B} \nabla\phi .dr = \phi_{A} - \phi_{B}

What this means is that the value is dependent only on the initial and final positions. The path that you take to get from A to B is not important.

Screenshot from 2017-07-28 11:29:46

Now if the path of integration is a closed loop, then points A and B are the same, and therefore:

\int\limits_{A}^{A} F.dr = \int\limits_{A}^{A} \nabla\phi .dr = \phi_{1} - \phi_{1} = 0

Now that we are clear about this, according to Stokes theorem the same integral for a closed region can be represented in another form:

\int_{C} F.dr = \int\int_{A} (\nabla X F) .\vec{n} dA  = 0

From this we get that Curl = \nabla X F = 0 for a conservative field (i.e F = \nabla \phi ). Therefore when a conservative field is operated on by a curl operator (\nabla X ), it yields 0.

Bravo Prof.Ghrist! Beautifully said 😀

 

On the direction of the cross product of vectors

One of my math professors always told me:

Understand the concept and not the definition

A lot of times I have fallen into this pitfall where I seem to completely understand how to methodically do something without actually comprehending what it means. And only after several years after I first encountered the notion of cross products did I actually understand what they really meant. When I did, it was purely ecstatic!

 

Why on earth is the direction of cross product orthogonal ? Like seriously…

I mean this is one of the burning questions regarding the cross product and yet for some reason, textbooks don’t get to the bottom of this. One way to think about this is :

It is modeling a real life scenario!!

The scenario being :

When you try to twist a screw (clockwise screws being the convention) inside a block in the clockwise direction like so, the nail moves down and vice versa.

tumblr_inline_o5ew5ogSZ11srob4n_400

i.e When you move from the screw from u to v, then the direction of the cross product denotes the direction the screw will move.

tumblr_inline_o5ewlziDu81srob4n_250

That’s why the direction of the cross product is orthogonal. It’s really that simple!

 

Another perspective

Now that you get a physical feel for the direction of the cross product, there is another way of looking at the direction too:

Displacement is a vector. Velocity is a vector. Acceleration is a vector. As you might expect, angular displacement, angular velocity, and angular acceleration are all vectors, too.

But which way do they point ?

crossproduct

Let’s take a rolling tire. The velocity vector of every point in the tire is pointed in every other direction. BUT every point on a rolling tire has to have the same angular velocity – Magnitude and Direction.

How can we possibly assign a direction to the angular velocity ?

cross-product-simple

Well, the only way to ensure that the direction of the angular velocity is the same for every point is to make the direction of the angular velocity perpendicular to the plane of the tire.
Problem solved!