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Retrograde Motion

Phenomenon

1. A planet moves eastwards (prograde motion) near the ecliptic .

2. Sometimes it slows down and moves westwards (retrograde motion) for a certain period of
time.

3. Then it resumes its eastward motion describing a loop.

Explanation

(I) Ptolemy’s geocentric model

1. Earth is eccentric i.e. slightly off centre.

2. The equant E is the point about which


the rate of change of  is constant.

3. Real retrograde motion due to


combined motion of epicycle and
deferent.

(II) Copernicus’s heliocentric model

1. Earth’s orbital speed is larger than that of


the superior planet Mars.

2. As Earth periodically overtakes and


passes Mars, Mars appears to move
backwards, then apparent retrograde
motion is produced.

3. Appearance of loop depends on the


angle between the orbital planes.
Ptolemy’s geocentric model
1. All planets revolve about the Earth, the assumed centre of universe.

2. Accurate prediction of planet motion making use of epicycle, deferent, eccentric and equant.

3. Centre of epicycle of Mercury and Venus is fixed on the line joining the Earth and the Sun so
as to explain the observed small angular separation between these planets and the Sun.

Copernicus’s heliocentric model


Strength

1. Elegant explanation of retrograde motion without using epicycles.

2. Simple explanation of the observed small angular separation between Venus and the Sun.

3. Clear account of the cause of the season due to the axial tilt of the Earth.

Weakness

1. Inaccurate prediction of planet motion despite its elegance.

2. Even more epicycles through eliminating the equants.

3. Clinging to the idea that planets are in uniform circular motion.

Phases of Venus
1. In Ptolemaic geocentric model, only crescent and new phase of Venus is possible.

angular diameter
decreases on waning

angular diameter
increases on waxing

2. In Copernicus heliocentric model, Venus undergoes a complete cycle of phases with the largest
/ smallest angular diameter in New / Full phase.

3. Galileo’s finding of complete phases of Venus confirms Copernicus’s view.