Equatorial bulge

Equatorial bulge

Overview
An equatorial bulge is a difference between the equatorial and polar diameter
Diameter
In geometry, a diameter of a circle is any straight line segment that passes through the center of the circle and whose endpoints are on the circle. The diameters are the longest chords of the circle...

s of a planet, due to the centrifugal force
Centrifugal force
Centrifugal force can generally be any force directed outward relative to some origin. More particularly, in classical mechanics, the centrifugal force is an outward force which arises when describing the motion of objects in a rotating reference frame...

 of its rotation
Rotation
A rotation is a circular movement of an object around a center of rotation. A three-dimensional object rotates always around an imaginary line called a rotation axis. If the axis is within the body, and passes through its center of mass the body is said to rotate upon itself, or spin. A rotation...

. A rotating body tends to form an oblate spheroid rather than a sphere
Sphere
A sphere is a perfectly round geometrical object in three-dimensional space, such as the shape of a round ball. Like a circle in two dimensions, a perfect sphere is completely symmetrical around its center, with all points on the surface lying the same distance r from the center point...

. The Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 has an equatorial bulge of 42.72 km (26.5 mi): that is, its diameter measured across the equatorial plane (12756.28 km (7,926.4 mi)) is 42.72 km more than that measured between the poles (12713.56 km (7,899.9 mi)); in other words, anyone standing at sea level on either pole may be 21.36 km closer to the earth's centrepoint
Inner core
The inner core of the Earth, its innermost hottest part as detected by seismological studies, is a primarily solid ball about in radius, or about 70% that of the Moon...

 than if standing at sea level on the equator.
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Encyclopedia
An equatorial bulge is a difference between the equatorial and polar diameter
Diameter
In geometry, a diameter of a circle is any straight line segment that passes through the center of the circle and whose endpoints are on the circle. The diameters are the longest chords of the circle...

s of a planet, due to the centrifugal force
Centrifugal force
Centrifugal force can generally be any force directed outward relative to some origin. More particularly, in classical mechanics, the centrifugal force is an outward force which arises when describing the motion of objects in a rotating reference frame...

 of its rotation
Rotation
A rotation is a circular movement of an object around a center of rotation. A three-dimensional object rotates always around an imaginary line called a rotation axis. If the axis is within the body, and passes through its center of mass the body is said to rotate upon itself, or spin. A rotation...

. A rotating body tends to form an oblate spheroid rather than a sphere
Sphere
A sphere is a perfectly round geometrical object in three-dimensional space, such as the shape of a round ball. Like a circle in two dimensions, a perfect sphere is completely symmetrical around its center, with all points on the surface lying the same distance r from the center point...

. The Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 has an equatorial bulge of 42.72 km (26.5 mi): that is, its diameter measured across the equatorial plane (12756.28 km (7,926.4 mi)) is 42.72 km more than that measured between the poles (12713.56 km (7,899.9 mi)); in other words, anyone standing at sea level on either pole may be 21.36 km closer to the earth's centrepoint
Inner core
The inner core of the Earth, its innermost hottest part as detected by seismological studies, is a primarily solid ball about in radius, or about 70% that of the Moon...

 than if standing at sea level on the equator. To get the Earth's mean radius, these two radii must be averaged.

An often-cited result of Earth's equatorial bulge is that the highest point on Earth, measured from the center outwards, is the peak of Mount Chimborazo
Chimborazo (volcano)
Chimborazo is a currently inactive stratovolcano located in the Cordillera Occidental range of the Andes. Its last known eruption is believed to have occurred around 550 AD....

 in Ecuador, rather than Mount Everest
Mount Everest
Mount Everest is the world's highest mountain, with a peak at above sea level. It is located in the Mahalangur section of the Himalayas. The international boundary runs across the precise summit point...

. But since the ocean, like the Earth and the atmosphere, bulges, Chimborazo is not as high above sea level as Everest is.

The equilibrium as a balance of energies


Gravity tends to contract a celestial body into a perfect sphere
Sphere
A sphere is a perfectly round geometrical object in three-dimensional space, such as the shape of a round ball. Like a circle in two dimensions, a perfect sphere is completely symmetrical around its center, with all points on the surface lying the same distance r from the center point...

, the shape for which all the mass is as close to the center of gravity as possible. Rotation
Rotation
A rotation is a circular movement of an object around a center of rotation. A three-dimensional object rotates always around an imaginary line called a rotation axis. If the axis is within the body, and passes through its center of mass the body is said to rotate upon itself, or spin. A rotation...

 causes a distortion from this spherical shape; a common measure of the distortion is the flattening
Flattening
The flattening, ellipticity, or oblateness of an oblate spheroid is a measure of the "squashing" of the spheroid's pole, towards its equator...

 (sometimes called ellipticity or oblateness), which can depend on a variety of factors including the size, angular velocity
Angular velocity
In physics, the angular velocity is a vector quantity which specifies the angular speed of an object and the axis about which the object is rotating. The SI unit of angular velocity is radians per second, although it may be measured in other units such as degrees per second, revolutions per...

, density
Density
The mass density or density of a material is defined as its mass per unit volume. The symbol most often used for density is ρ . In some cases , density is also defined as its weight per unit volume; although, this quantity is more properly called specific weight...

, and elasticity
Elasticity (physics)
In physics, elasticity is the physical property of a material that returns to its original shape after the stress that made it deform or distort is removed. The relative amount of deformation is called the strain....

.

To get a feel for the type of equilibrium that is involved, imagine someone seated in a spinning swivel chair, with weights in their hands. If the person in the chair pulls the weights towards them, they are doing work and their rotational kinetic energy increases. The increase of rotation rate is so strong that at the faster rotation rate the required centripetal force
Centripetal force
Centripetal force is a force that makes a body follow a curved path: it is always directed orthogonal to the velocity of the body, toward the instantaneous center of curvature of the path. The mathematical description was derived in 1659 by Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens...

 is larger than with the starting rotation rate.

Something analogous to this occurs in planet formation. Matter first coalesces into a slowly rotating disk-shaped distribution, and collisions and friction convert kinetic energy to heat, which allows the disk to self-gravitate into a very oblate spheroid.

As long as the proto-planet is still too oblate to be in equilibrium, the release of gravitational potential energy on contraction keeps driving the increase in rotational kinetic energy. As the contraction proceeds the rotation rate keeps going up, hence the required force for further contraction keeps going up. There is a point where the increase of rotational kinetic energy on further contraction would be larger than the release of gravitational potential energy. The contraction process can only proceed up to that point, so it halts there.

As long as there is no equilibrium there can be violent convection, and as long as there is violent convection friction can convert kinetic energy to heat, draining rotational kinetic energy from the system. When the equilibrium state has been reached then large scale conversion of kinetic energy to heat ceases. In that sense the equilibrium state is the lowest state of energy that can be reached.

The Earth's rotation rate is still slowing down, but gradually, about a thousandth of a second per rotation every 100 years. Estimates of how fast the Earth was rotating in the past vary, because it is unknown how exactly the moon has formed. Estimates of the Earth's rotation 500 million years ago are around 20 modern hours per "day".

The Earth's rate of rotation is slowing down mainly because of tidal interactions with the Moon and the Sun. Since the solid parts of the Earth are ductile, the Earth's equatorial bulge has been decreasing in step with the decrease in the rate of rotation.

Differences in gravitational acceleration


Because of a planet's rotation around its own axis, the gravitational acceleration is less at the equator than at the poles. In the 17th century, following the invention of the pendulum clock
Pendulum clock
A pendulum clock is a clock that uses a pendulum, a swinging weight, as its timekeeping element. The advantage of a pendulum for timekeeping is that it is a resonant device; it swings back and forth in a precise time interval dependent on its length, and resists swinging at other rates...

, French scientists found that clocks sent to French Guiana
French Guiana
French Guiana is an overseas region of France, consisting of a single overseas department located on the northern Atlantic coast of South America. It has borders with two nations, Brazil to the east and south, and Suriname to the west...

, on the northern coast of South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

, ran slower than their exact counterparts in Paris. Measurements of the acceleration due to gravity at the equator must also take into account the planet's rotation. Any object that is stationary with respect to the surface of the Earth is actually following a circular trajectory, circumnavigating the Earth's axis. Pulling an object into such a circular trajectory requires a force. The acceleration that is required to circumnavigate the Earth's axis along the equator at one revolution per sidereal day is 0.0339 m/s². Providing this acceleration decreases the effective gravitational acceleration. At the equator, the effective gravitational acceleration is 9.7805 m/s². This means that the true gravitational acceleration at the equator must be 9.8144 m/s² (9.7805 + 0.0339 = 9.8144).

At the poles, the gravitational acceleration is 9.8322 m/s². The difference of 0.0178 m/s² between the gravitational acceleration at the poles and the true gravitational acceleration at the equator is because objects located on the equator are about 21 kilometers further away from the center of mass of the Earth than at the poles, which corresponds to a smaller gravitational acceleration.

In summary, there are two contributions to the fact that the effective gravitational acceleration is less strong at the equator than at the poles. About 70 percent of the difference is contributed by the fact that objects circumnavigate the Earth's axis, and about 30 percent is due to the non-spherical shape of the Earth.

The diagram illustrates that on all latitudes the effective gravitational acceleration is decreased by the requirement of providing a centripetal force; the decreasing effect is strongest on the equator.

Satellite orbits


The fact that the Earth's gravitational field slightly deviates from being spherically symmetrical also affects the orbits of satellite
Satellite
In the context of spaceflight, a satellite is an object which has been placed into orbit by human endeavour. Such objects are sometimes called artificial satellites to distinguish them from natural satellites such as the Moon....

s and changes their orbits away from pure ellipse
Ellipse
In geometry, an ellipse is a plane curve that results from the intersection of a cone by a plane in a way that produces a closed curve. Circles are special cases of ellipses, obtained when the cutting plane is orthogonal to the cone's axis...

s. This is especially important in the case of the trajectories of GPS-satellites.

Other celestial bodies


Generally any celestial body that is rotating (and that is sufficiently massive to draw itself into spherical or near spherical shape) will have an equatorial bulge matching its rotation rate. Saturn
Saturn
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in the Solar System, after Jupiter. Saturn is named after the Roman god Saturn, equated to the Greek Cronus , the Babylonian Ninurta and the Hindu Shani. Saturn's astronomical symbol represents the Roman god's sickle.Saturn,...

 is the planet with the largest equatorial bulge in our solar system (11808 km, 7337 miles).

The following is a table of the equatorial bulge of some major celestial bodies of our solar system:
Body Equatorial diameter Polar diameter Equatorial bulge Flattening
Flattening
The flattening, ellipticity, or oblateness of an oblate spheroid is a measure of the "squashing" of the spheroid's pole, towards its equator...

 ratio
Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 
12,756.28 km 12,713.56 km 42.72 km 1:298.2575
Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

 
6,805 km 6,754.8 km 50.2 km 1:135.56
Ceres  975 km 909 km 66 km 1:14.77
Jupiter
Jupiter
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System. It is a gas giant with mass one-thousandth that of the Sun but is two and a half times the mass of all the other planets in our Solar System combined. Jupiter is classified as a gas giant along with Saturn,...

 
143,884 km 133,709 km 10,175 km 1:14.14
Saturn
Saturn
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in the Solar System, after Jupiter. Saturn is named after the Roman god Saturn, equated to the Greek Cronus , the Babylonian Ninurta and the Hindu Shani. Saturn's astronomical symbol represents the Roman god's sickle.Saturn,...

 
120,536 km 108,728 km 11,808 km 1:10.21
Uranus
Uranus
Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun. It has the third-largest planetary radius and fourth-largest planetary mass in the Solar System. It is named after the ancient Greek deity of the sky Uranus , the father of Cronus and grandfather of Zeus...

 
51,118 km 49,946 km 1,172 km 1:43.62
Neptune
Neptune
Neptune is the eighth and farthest planet from the Sun in the Solar System. Named for the Roman god of the sea, it is the fourth-largest planet by diameter and the third largest by mass. Neptune is 17 times the mass of Earth and is slightly more massive than its near-twin Uranus, which is 15 times...

49,528 km 48,682 km 846 km 1:58.54

Mathematical expression


The flattening coefficient for the equilibrium configuration of a self-gravitating spheroid, composed of uniform density incompressible fluid, rotating steadily about some fixed axis, is:


where and are respectively the equatorial and polar radius,
is the mean radius,
is the angular velocity,
is the rotation period,
is the universal gravitational constant,
is the total body mass,
and is the body density.