How do scientist measure the mass of the planets?
The mass of a planet can be determined using Kepler's 3rd law and by gravitational effects.
The most accurate way of measuring the mass of a planet is to send a spacecraft to it and measure the acceleration due to gravity as the spacecraft passes by it.
Alternatively, if the planet has a moon then its mass can be calculated from the moon's orbit.
First of all we need to know how far the planet is from the Earth. In the case of Venus we do this by bouncing radar signals off the planet and measuring the time it takes for the radar to return. Given the distance of Venus from Earth at its closest point, we can calculate the distance from the Earth to the Sun. Now if we measure the orbital period of any other planet we can calculate the distance using Kepler's third law.
To calculate the mass of the planet we need the distance of the planet form Earth
We can now calculate the radius of the moon's orbit
Rearranging the equation gives:
We now have calculated the combined mass of the planet and the moon. If the moon is small compared to the planet then we can ignore the moon's mass and set
If the moon is relatively large such as the Earth's Moon and Pluto and Charon, then we need to find the centre of mass which the planet and the moon are orbiting around. The distance
This gives the planet's mass as: