Astronomers (and pretty much all of us) once believed that the center of the solar system was right in the middle of the Sun. However, in reality, that’s not accurate, according to data unearthed earlier this year.
If we can get a little scientific for a second, our solar system’s planets and the sun actually orbit around a ‘center of mass’ called a barycenter. Now, scientists have been able to locate the exact center of the solar system more accurately than ever, within the length of a football field. That’s truly incredible when you think about the sheer size of our solar system.
The reason that the center isn’t quite in the middle of the sun is kind of obvious when you think about it — gravity. Every planet has its own gravitational pull that it imposes on the sun which off-centers it. Jupiter, however, by far the biggest planet we have, has the greatest tug on the burning star. This makes the barycenter lie just outside of the Sun’s surface.
How were astronomers able to measure this so precisely? Pulsars. Essentially, they’re stars that emit radiation in beam form. By recording these beams across the galaxy, we can calculate (well not us, but scientists) Earth’s distance from other objects in our orbit, including the center of our solar system. With modern advances, we’re able to do that more accurately than ever.
This new research will be important in assisting astronomers to detect gravitational waves and pinpoint supermassive blackholes! Cool, don’t you think? If you’d like to go full-nerd on this, check out the extended report over on Inverse.