In astronomy, libration is a perceived oscillating motion of orbitingbodies relative to each other, notably including the motion of the Moon relative to Earth, or of trojan asteroids relative to planets. Lunar libration is distinct from the slight changes in the Moon's apparent size viewed from Earth. Although this appearance can also be described as an oscillating motion, it is caused by actual changes in the physical distance of the Moon because of its elliptic orbit around Earth. Lunar libration is caused by three phenomena detailed below.
The phase and libration of the Moon for 2013 at hourly intervals, with music, titles and supplemental graphics.
Simulated views of the Moon over one month, demonstrating librations in latitude and longitude. Also visible are the different phases, and the variation in visual size caused by the variable distance from Earth.
Theoretical extent of visible lunar surface (in green) due to libration, compared to the extent of the visible lunar surface without libration (in yellow). The projection is the Winkel Tripel projection.
The Moon keeps one hemisphere of itself facing the Earth, due to tidal locking. Therefore, the first view of the far side of the Moon was not possible until the Soviet probe Luna 3 reached the Moon on October 7th, 1959 and further lunar exploration by the U.S. and the Soviet Union. However, this simple picture is only approximately true: over time, slightly more than half (about 59%) of the Moon's surface is seen from Earth due to libration.
Libration is manifested as a slow rocking back and forth of the Moon as viewed from Earth, permitting an observer to see slightly different halves of the surface at different times.
There are three types of lunar libration:
Libration in longitude results from the eccentricity of the Moon's orbit around Earth; the Moon's rotation sometimes leads and sometimes lags its orbital position. The lunar libration in longitude was discovered by Johannes Hevelius in 1648.
Diurnal libration is a small daily oscillation due to the Earth's rotation, which carries an observer first to one side and then to the other side of the straight line joining Earth's and the Moon's centers, allowing the observer to look first around one side of the Moon and then around the other—because the observer is on the surface of the Earth, not at its center.
In 1772 Lagrange's analyses determined that small bodies can stably share the same orbit as a planet if they remain near Lagrange points, which are 60° ahead of or behind the planet in its orbit. Such ‘trojan asteroids’ have been found co-orbiting with Earth, Jupiter, Mars, and Neptune. Trojan asteroids associated with Earth are difficult to observe in the visible spectrum, as their libration paths are such that they would be visible primarily in the daylight sky. In 2010, however, using infrared observation techniques, the asteroid 2010 TK7 was found to be a trojan companion of the Earth; it librates around the leading Lagrange point, L4, in a stable orbit.
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