Department or Program
Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor
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.