Astrophysics (Index)About

tidal force

(effect of a third body on the gravitational force between two bodies)

The tidal force is the difference in the gravitational force of one body upon another due to the presence of a third nearby body. The tides of the Earth's oceans are explained by the presence of the Moon, the Moon acting as the third body, contributing to the total gravitational force on the affected body, the ocean.

When gravitational force is described as between finite-sized objects as opposed to being treated as idealized (infinitesimally-small) point masses, the forces holding the individual objects together are affected by a tidal force, i.e., the gravity of the other body. The ground beneath my feet, besides being held down by Earth's gravity, is pulled slightly by the Moon.

If rotation or orbit causes the direction of such a tidal force to change over time, the elasticity of a body allows work to be done changing its shape, dissipating energy through frictional heat, which can change the orbit and/or rotation of the bodies (labeled tidal acceleration, or in the cases when the acceleration is slowing, tidal deceleration or tidal braking) Over time, the bodies can settle into a tidal locked situation (tidal locking) where the bodies' rotation matches the orbit, i.e., the same face of the body always faces its orbiting partner. This is the case with the Earth's moon and numerous other moons in the solar system.

Tidal forces also affect galaxies (galactic tide refers to the effect of tidal force of one galaxy on another), gas clouds, and other astronomical bodies.

Tidal equilibrium takes place when tidal forces bring bodies into an equilibrium state, e.g., when tidal forces no longer affect the kinematics, which can be the case with tidal locking. For some three-body systems, e.g., a star, its planet, and the planet's moon, an equilibrium state is never reached.

Within the strong-field gravity of a black hole, tidal forces are extreme, rising to the point where they destroy anything solid. Spaghettification is a term for a tendency to stretch objects along the line through the black hole's center of mass, and draw it together along planes normal to the line.

Further reading:

Referenced by pages:
binary star
circumplanetary disk
dwarf galaxy problem
extreme mass ratio inspiral (EMRI)
galactic tide
galaxy classification
inflated radii
irregular galaxy
Keplerian orbit
Love number
Magellanic Stream
moment of inertia factor
neutron star merger
peculiar galaxy (p)
Roche limit
Roche lobe
Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy (Sgr dE)
stellar stream
tidal disruption event (TDE)
tidal arm
tidal capture
tidal heating
tidal locking
tidal migration
tidal Q