After a tedious and difficult research process, Kepler discovered three laws that could describe how the planets move with reference to the Sun with more precision as compared to Copernicus’ and Ptolemy’s planetary models. The following information is based on pages 98 – 99 and 111 – 114 of “Text-Book on Spherical Astronomy” written by W.M. Smart.

** Kepler’s
First Law** states that the path, or orbit, of a planet
around the Sun is an ellipse, the position of the Sun being at a focus of the
ellipse.

Figure 15

Figure
15 above shows an ellipse of which S and F are the two foci, C is the centre
(midway between S and F) and ΠA
is the major axis. The Sun will be supposed to be at S and the planet to move
anticlockwise around the ellipse. At P,
the planet is at perigee, while at A, it is at apogee. ΠC
is the semimajor axis; its length is given by *a*. DC is the semiminor
axis; its length is denoted by *b*. The eccentricity *e* is given by
the ratio SC : SA. By properties of ellipses, *b*^{2}
= *a*^{2}
(1 - *e*^{2})
. The perigee distance SΠ
is
*a*(1-
*e*)
and apogee
distance SA is a(1 + e).

Let
*ρ *denote the distance of the planet Z from the Sun and the angle
*θ* be the planet’s angular distance from perigee, or the true anomaly. The
equation of its elliptical orbit is known to be

The
time required for the planet to describe its orbit is called the **period**,
denoted by *T*. In time
*T*, the radius vector
SZ sweeps out an angle
of 2*π*
and thus, the **mean angular velocity** of the planet, *w*, is
.

**
Kepler’s
Second Law
** states that the radius vector SZ
(in Figure
16) sweeps out equal areas in equal times.

Figure 16

Let
Z correspond to the planet’s position at time *t* and Q its position at
time
Let
denote
the radius vector SQ
and
be
Hence,
If
is sufficiently small, the arc ZQ
may be regarded as a straight line and the area swept out in the infinitesimal
interval is simply the area of triangle
QSZ which is equal to
or with sufficient accuracy, The area velocity or the rate of
description of area is the previous expression for area divided by As this rate is constant according
to Kepler’s second law, we can write,

where
*h* is a constant.

Now,
the whole area of the ellipse is
*πab*
and this is described in the period
*T*. Hence,

or,

because

By (1) and (2), we have,

Figure17

Theoretically,
if the values of the semimajor axis *a*, the eccentricity *e*, the
time at which the planet passed through perigee τ*
**T**
*are known, Kepler’s second law would
enable us to determine the position of the planet in its orbit at any instant.

Referring
to Figure 17, Z
is the position of the planet at time *t*. In the interval
(*t - **τ*)
the radius vector moving from SΠ
to SZ sweeps out the shaded area
SZΠ.
By Kepler’s Second Law,

Area SZΠ
: Area of ellipse = *t - * *τ
*
:

Hence, Area SZΠ =

Or, Area SZΠ =

where
*w* =
and
*b*^{2} = *a*^{2} (1* – e*^{2})
.

This method may seem easy but in practice, it is inconvenient; the alternative is explained in detail in the last section, "Determining Planetary Positions".