Date

2018

Department or Program

Physics

Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Robbie Berg

Additional Advisor(s)

John Lindner

Abstract

In 2017 an interstellar visitor, 'Oumuamua, was discovered by Robert Weryk at Haleakala Observatory, Hawai'i. Analysis of 'Oumuamua's light curve suggests it has a highly elongated shape. The dynamics of such irregularly shaped objects cannot be modeled with simple approximations; while Newton's sphere theorem allows us to model the gravitational dynamics of spherically symmetric objects as point masses, a spherical approximation is insufficient to describe the interactions of highly elliptical objects like 'Oumuamua -- and even Earth, which is not a true sphere but rather an oblate spheroid.

Fortunately, there exist closed-form expressions for the gravitational potential of a spheroid. For this project, I use Mathematica to solve systems of nonlinear differential equations to model the motion of an object sliding on such a spheroid. Under certain conditions, the path of the slider becomes highly sensitive to initial conditions. This sensitivity manifests as chaos, which is apparent both qualitatively and quantitatively.

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