Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union

Contributed Papers

Astrometric solar-system anomalies

John D. Andersona1 and Michael Martin Nietoa2

a1 Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Retired), 121 S. Wilson Ave., Pasadena, CA 91106-3017, U.S.A. email:

a2 Theoretical Division (MS-B285), Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico 87645 U.S.A. email:


There are at least four unexplained anomalies connected with astrometric data. Perhaps the most disturbing is the fact that when a spacecraft on a flyby trajectory approaches the Earth within 2000 km or less, it often experiences a change in total orbital energy per unit mass. Next, a secular change in the astronomical unit AU is definitely a concern. It is reportedly increasing by about 15 cm yr−1. The other two anomalies are perhaps less disturbing because of known sources of nongravitational acceleration. The first is an apparent slowing of the two Pioneer spacecraft as they exit the solar system in opposite directions. Some astronomers and physicists, including us, are convinced this effect is of concern, but many others are convinced it is produced by a nearly identical thermal emission from both spacecraft, in a direction away from the Sun, thereby producing acceleration toward the Sun. The fourth anomaly is a measured increase in the eccentricity of the Moon's orbit. Here again, an increase is expected from tidal friction in both the Earth and Moon. However, there is a reported unexplained increase that is significant at the three-sigma level. It is prudent to suspect that all four anomalies have mundane explanations, or that one or more anomalies are a result of systematic error. Yet they might eventually be explained by new physics. For example, a slightly modified theory of gravitation is not ruled out, perhaps analogous to Einstein's 1916 explanation for the excess precession of Mercury's perihelion.


  • gravitation;
  • celestial mechanics;
  • astrometry


Note: This material is in part based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0843236. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.