1902 Encyclopedia > Tides > [Dynamical Theory of Tides] Precession and Nutation

(Part 20)


20. Precession and Nutation

Suppose we have a planet covered with a shallow ocean, and that the ocean is set into oscillation. Then, if there are no external disturbing forces, so that the oscillations are "free," not "forced," the resultant moment of momentum of the planet and ocean remains constant. And, since each particle of the ocean executes periodic oscillations about a mean position, it follows that the oscillation of the ocean imparts to the solid earth oscillations such that the resultant moment of momentum of the whole system remains constant. But the mass of the ocean being very small compared with that of the planet, the component angular velocities of the planet necessary to counterbalance the moment of momentum of the oscillations of the sea are very small compared with the component angular velocities of the sea, and therefore the disturbance of planetary rotation due to oceanic reaction is negligible. If now an external disturbing force, such as that of the moon, acts on the system, the resultant moment of momentum of sea and earth is unaffected by the interaction between them, and the precessional and nutational couples are the same as if sea and earth were rigidly connected together. Therefore the additions to these, couples on account of tidal oscillation are the couples due to the attraction of the moor on the excess or deficiency of water above or below mean sea-level. The tidal oscillations are very small in height compared with the equatorial protuberance of the earth, and the density of water is of that of surface rock; hence the additional couples are very small compared with the couples due to the moon’s action on the solid equatorial protuberance. Therefore precession and nutation take place sensibly as though the sea were congealed in its mean position. If the ocean be regarded as frictionless, the principles of energy show us that these insensible additional couples must be periodic in time, and thus the corrections to nutation must consist of semi-diurnal, diurnal, and fortnightly nutations of absolutely insensible magnitude. We shall have much to say below on the results of the introduction of friction into the conception of tidal oscillations as a branch of speculative astronomy.

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