Skip to main content

perturbation

perturbation (pŭr´tərbā´shən), in astronomy and physics, small force or other influence that modifies the otherwise simple motion of some object. The term is also used for the effect produced by the perturbation, e.g., a change in the object's energy or path of motion. One important effect of perturbations is the advance, or precession, of the perihelion of a planet, which can be described as a slow rotation of the entire planetary orbit. A residual advance in the perihelion of Mercury provided a valuable test of Einstein's general theory of relativity.

In the solar system the dominant force is the gravitational force exerted by the sun on each planet; assuming that this is the only force, the simple elliptical orbits described by Kepler's laws are derived. However, the perturbations caused by the gravitational interaction of the planets among themselves change and complicate the curve of these orbits. The study of perturbations has led to important discoveries in astronomy. Within the solar system, the existence and position of Neptune was predicted because of the deviations of Uranus from its computed path. Likewise, Pluto was discovered by its effect on Neptune. Beyond the confines of the solar system, perturbations in the orbits of stars caused by the gravitational forces of orbiting bodies have led to the discovery of a number of extrasolar planetary systems.

In the atom the dominant force is the electrical force between the nucleus and the electrons; this force determines the characteristic structure, or energy levels, of the atom. The forces exerted by the electrons among themselves are perturbations that slightly modify this structure.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"perturbation." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"perturbation." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/perturbation

"perturbation." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved November 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/perturbation

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.