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[Photo Swinging kids by Chan"ad]

So, say you're Pluto.

You've just recovered from what may've been the greatest letdown the scientific community has ever bestowed on any astral being. You're trapped here, like all the "current" planets, due to the force of gravity. The planets have enough mass to interfere with your orbit a smidge, but for all intents and purposes, you're where you are, travelling along the path you do because of the sun.

Like an imaginary rope/chain, you're continually being pulled in towards the sun at a rate equal to (bunch of math here) but maintain your distance because of (more math).

You're in orbit.

If you were a bucket at the end of a rope, swinging in orbit around a 12 year old girl, some of the principles here would be reasonably similar. We "get" how the rope/bucket trick works, and it's a good time watching the bucket go round with no water ever spilling out.

Cut the rope though, and the bucket immediately flies away in a straight path, there being no present force any longer pulling it towards the girl. Cut the rope, kindnap the girl, loosen the knot, etc.. It doesn't really matter.. Once that force is removed, the orbit stops, and the object's momentum takes it off into the distance.

Back to you, Pluto.

If the sun were to explode, or otherwise lose its mass in some significant event, Pluto would hopelessly fly off into the nothingness of space. /wave Take care!

My question to you, is this:

How long does it take you to notice? It takes light 320ish minutes to reach Pluto. Would you feel the loss of gravity 6 hours before you saw the explosion/event? Is gravity across that distance, instant? Or delayed? And if it's delayed, what keeps pulling Pluto in towards the sun for those 6 hours while the Sun -isn't- any longer?

IANAA (I am not an astrophysicist), but I think gravitational effects are immediate. Consider the classic representation of the sun as a large, heavy bowling ball sitting on a suspended, rubbery sheet, creating a large depression in the sheet which affects the tennis and ping pong and golf and baseballs placed around it. As soon as you lift the bowling ball off the sheet, the other balls immediate lose the "force" pulling them toward the place where the bowling ball was.

I think the space-time continuum, whose shape is warped by the extreme mass of our buddy Sol, immediately rebounds if Sol's mass is removed from the center of the solar system, and thereby immediately affects the orbiting planets.

That's my take on it. But if somebody here IS an astrophysicist, I'd love to hear the proper answer!

I forgot to add that I think the reason gravity is immediate, whereas light is not, is that light is transmitted via a particle (photon) that must travel THROUGH the medium of space. In contrast, gravity has no associated particle (none that we've found, at any rate), and hence is modelled as a warping of the medium of space itself. Hence nothing need travel from body to body for gravity to have an effect. It is having an immediate effect by the manner in which it deforms the shape of space-time.

And they say size doesn't matter!
Brian Dear
"Globalization, Economics and Politics"

Interesting post. If I remember my undergrad physics and astronomy courses correctly, the effects of gravity are immediate, whereas light takes time to travel. So you would feel the effects before you saw them.

Poor Pluto, no longer a planet. All those books that have to be revised!

Anyhow, a big welcome to my new tenant. :) Your blog is great - I'm sure it will be become one of my regular reads. :)

It's all to big for my little mind to cope with on a thursday afternoon or any afternoon for that matter or any morning either when I come to think about it.

I'll shut up now.


Instsantaneous oblieration! You wouldn't even know. If the Sun, in it's almighty power were to explode, no more worries for anything, anywhere, anyone. It would be awesome to be a witness of this cataclysmic event from a not so distant observation platform. Since no platform exists, I, like everyone else will be doomed and we have to watch it on instant replay in the afterlife.

What a great post!! Poor Pluto.

Well, it comes down to distance, right? We might well be far enough away to be able to both watch and survive the blast. Pluto's probably pretty safe where she's at (and, afterwards, moving off in a straight line away from all the chaos - even safer). Most interesting of all is what we'd do about it..

Even self-sufficient geosphere'y places would be in trouble with no sunlight to provide useable energy. Everything outdoors is clearly in trouble, and with the atmosphere itself drastically cooled, I'm not sure how long any of this would truly matter.. Plus the ocean water expanding as it turned to ice would be a coastal-glacier invasion that I'm not sure we'd want to send crews outside to fend off.. :)

We'd certainly be in trouble.

And, more interesting is what we'd do about it even if we could try.. We could try to fly folks off to someplace else (Mars? ... it doesn't have a sun anymore either :) ), but the basis for our interplanitary travel has been based on slingshots around the sun, other planets, etc, to get us where we're going.. If all the planets are now moving in straight-line paths, we'd better hope we're at least moving in the same direction, or it's even more speed/distance to cover. (and really, again, the point is kind of moot.. there's nothing better for us there either)

There's also Jupiter... who'd still retain enough mass to be a major player, and without competition with the sun, might well start to pull the planets over towards itself.. whole new set of problems for us :)

But Pluto! You're set, girl. Off-axis, way off in the distance from all of that stuff.. you'd just wander off, moons in tow lookin for a new home :)

I disagree, I think it would take some time until Pluto (or any planet affected by the sun's gravitational influence) is thrown off balance. The theory is that gravity travels at the same speed as light and thus is bound by the laws of physics dictating that it would take some time before the pull prouced by the sun would be reflected on a distant planet.

So I think are talking about 5-6 hours till the pluto experiences the effects of gravity being thrown off. I think of it like a string that is burning from one end. Imagine you could keep that string constantly tight by applying tension right in front of the burn. It doesn't matter how short or long that string is, the tension remains constant until the string is gone.

And, wikipedia ftw! ; )

"In mathematical physics, particularly in the context of classical theories of gravitation, the speed of gravity refers to the speed at which gravitational radiation propagates. This is the speed at which news or field updating information is propagated as a wave.

If no other theory is specified, it is generally understood that the theory in question is our current gold standard theory of gravitation, namely general relativity."

And to break down the rest of it to something manageable and not so Physicsy...

General relativy predicts that gravitational radiation travels as a wave at the speed of light.

So, that being said. Pluto should trudge along his/her merry way for 320ish minutes and then be like... "Oh *%@*$%&#. Where the hell did the sun go?" and continue drifting along its current vector into the nothing where there be void Kraken.

Personally, I'd rather see a Newton vs. Einstein Celebrity Death Match to determine who is right.


And even better alternative from my perspective... We blow up the sun and see what happens! Nothing beats observational data!

Follows: A Public Service Announcement from the Northern Alliance to Destroy the Sun.

The sun is bad! It causes cancer! The sun is slowly destroying you and will only cause you harm while you live. We must band together and bring the sun its own DOOM! We must destroy the sun while we still can! Join the struggle! Fight the sun!

This was a PSA from NADS. Thank you for your time.

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