Do You Know Where Your Barycenter Is?

As you undoubtedly already know, being the scholars and gentlepeople that you are, the moon does not precisely revolve around the earth. Its mass is so big relative to the earth that the two of them revolve jointly around each other. It looks something like this:

The red cross at the center of the two-body system is called the barycenter. The solar system has a barycenter too, largely because of the influence of Jupiter, and the barycenter moves around relative to the sun in a complex pattern that looks like this:

A new paper in Scientific Reports by V. V. Zharkova, S. J. Shepherd, S. I. Zharkov and E. Popova explains what this means for climate change:

Since the Sun moves around the solar system barycenter…then the distances to its perihelion will be 1.47 × 108 km and to it aphelion 1.52 × 108 km. The solar inertial motion means for the Earth that the distance between the Sun and the Earth has to significantly change (up to 0.02 of a.u) at the extreme positions of SIM, and so does the average solar irradiance, which is inversely proportional to the squared distance between the Sun and Earth.

….If the Sun moves in its SIM closer to Earth’s aphelion (position 1) decreasing the Earth orbit eccentricity and to the autumn equinox as it is happening in the current millennium starting from Maunder Minimum, then the distance between Sun and Earth at the aphelion will become shorter approaching 1.49 × 108 km during the summer in the Northern and winter in the Southern hemispheres, and longer at the perihelion approaching 1.50 × 108, or during a winter in the Northern and summer in the Southern hemispheres. Hence, at this SIM position of the Sun, the Earth in aphelion should receive higher solar irradiance (and temperature) during the Northern hemisphere summers and Southern hemisphere winters….This is what happening in the terrestrial temperature in the current millennium starting since Maunder minimum and lasting until ≈2600.

Thanks to the sun’s movement around the solar system’s barycenter, its distance to the earth changes on a cycle lasting about 2200 years, with smaller cycles of about 200 years embedded within the larger one. Thus, the earth has been warming since 1500 AD and will continue warming until 2600 AD, after which it will begin a cooling cycle lasting until 3700 AD. This is what’s causing global warming. However, the next 30 years will see a cooling trend thanks to one of the smaller cycles reaching a minimum in 2050.

This all sounds great except for one thing: it’s completely full of shit.

Ken Rice of the University of Edinburgh, UK, criticised the paper for an “elementary” mistake about celestial mechanics. “It’s well known that the sun moves around the barycentre of the solar system due to the influence of the other solar system bodies, mainly Jupiter,” he says. “This does not mean, as the paper is claiming, that this then leads to changes in the distance between the sun and the Earth.”

….Gavin Schmidt of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies says the paper contains egregious errors. “The sun-Earth distance does not vary with the motion of the sun-Earth system around the barycentre of the sun-Jupiter system, nor the sun-galactic centre system or any other purely mathematical reference point,” he says. He says the journal must retract the paper if it wants to retain any credibility.

So how and why was this article written? And how did it get accepted in a journal from the publishers of Nature? Those are both mysteries. Scientific Reports says it has begun an “established process” to investigate the paper it has published. “This process is ongoing and we cannot comment further at this stage,” a spokesperson said.

In the meantime, all the climate denialists have themselves a jen-u-ine scientific paper to show that greenhouse gases aren’t doing any harm after all. It turns out that global warming is all down to celestial mechanics. And if the paper is eventually retracted? Then it will become yet more evidence of the scientific establishment covering up inconvenient truths. Oh joy.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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