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Question:
An AP Physics student needs data on the orbitals of Mercury, he is studying the Theory of Relativity but cannot find such data and needs to conduct an experiment - please help us find this information - The Science Resource Center from The American School in Japan



Replies:
Yes, it does look like the planet Mercury, not the element mercury (though special relativity is needed to understand the element mercury as well). If you look in, for example "The Encyclopedia of Physics", under Relativity, General, there is a section "Tests and predictions of general relativity" which describes the Mercury precession problem. If you want to see this worked out, I believe the best book on the subject is Misner, Thorne and Wheeler's on General Relativity - skip to any section that discusses Mercury (if there is one - I do not have a copy in my office so I am not sure it is actually there). For astronomical data you will have to ask an astronomer. The effect is pretty small: 43 seconds of arc per century, so observations of high precision or over a long period of time are required (together with complicated calculations of the effects of all the other planets on Mercury).

Arthur Smith



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