Johannes Kepler. Stamp issued by the German Democratic Republic in 1971, the 400th anniversary of Kepler’s birth.

Kepler formulated three remarkable laws of planetary motion. He deduced them directly from observations of the planets, most particularly of the motion of Mars. The first two laws appeared in 1609 in Kepler’s *Astronomia Nova*. The first law (**K1**) describes the orbit of a planet as an ellipse with the Sun at one focus. The second law (**K2**) states that the radial line from Sun to planet sweeps out equal areas in equal times; we now describe this in terms of conservation of angular momentum.

The third law (**K3**), which appeared in 1619 in Kepler’s *Harmonices Mundi*, is of a different character. It does not relate to a single planet, but connects the motions of different planets. It states that the squares of the orbital periods vary in proportion to the cubes of the semi-major axes. For circular orbits, the period squared is proportional to the radius cubed.

Continue reading ‘K3 implies the Inverse Square Law.’