In physics, an orbit is the gravitationally curved path of an object around a point in space, for example the orbit of a planet about a star or a natural satellite around a planet. Normally, orbit refers to a regularly repeating path around a body, to a close approximation, planets and satellites follow elliptical orbits, with the central mass being orbited at a focal point of the ellipse, as described by Keplers laws of planetary motion. For ease of calculation, in most situations orbital motion is adequately approximated by Newtonian Mechanics, historically, the apparent motions of the planets were described by European and Arabic philosophers using the idea of celestial spheres. This model posited the existence of perfect moving spheres or rings to which the stars and it assumed the heavens were fixed apart from the motion of the spheres, and was developed without any understanding of gravity. After the planets motions were accurately measured, theoretical mechanisms such as deferent. Originally geocentric it was modified by Copernicus to place the sun at the centre to help simplify the model, the model was further challenged during the 16th century, as comets were observed traversing the spheres. The basis for the understanding of orbits was first formulated by Johannes Kepler whose results are summarised in his three laws of planetary motion. Second, he found that the speed of each planet is not constant, as had previously been thought. Third, Kepler found a relationship between the orbital properties of all the planets orbiting the Sun. For the planets, the cubes of their distances from the Sun are proportional to the squares of their orbital periods. Jupiter and Venus, for example, are respectively about 5.2 and 0.723 AU distant from the Sun, their orbital periods respectively about 11.86 and 0.615 years. The proportionality is seen by the fact that the ratio for Jupiter,5. 23/11.862, is equal to that for Venus,0. 7233/0.6152. Idealised orbits meeting these rules are known as Kepler orbits, isaac Newton demonstrated that Keplers laws were derivable from his theory of gravitation and that, in general, the orbits of bodies subject to gravity were conic sections. Newton showed that, for a pair of bodies, the sizes are in inverse proportion to their masses. Where one body is more massive than the other, it is a convenient approximation to take the center of mass as coinciding with the center of the more massive body. Lagrange developed a new approach to Newtonian mechanics emphasizing energy more than force, in a dramatic vindication of classical mechanics, in 1846 le Verrier was able to predict the position of Neptune based on unexplained perturbations in the orbit of Uranus. This led astronomers to recognize that Newtonian mechanics did not provide the highest accuracy in understanding orbits, in relativity theory, orbits follow geodesic trajectories which are usually approximated very well by the Newtonian predictions but the differences are measurable. Essentially all the evidence that can distinguish between the theories agrees with relativity theory to within experimental measurement accuracy
Conic sections describe the possible orbits (yellow) of small objects around the Earth. A projection of these orbits onto the gravitational potential (blue) of the Earth makes it possible to determine the orbital energy at each point in space.
This image shows the four trajectory categories with the gravitational potential well of the central mass's field of potential energy shown in black and the height of the kinetic energy of the moving body shown in red extending above that, correlating to changes in speed as distance changes according to Kepler's laws.