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Sphere of influence (astrodynamics)

A sphere of influence (SOI) in astrodynamics and astronomy is the oblate-spheroid-shaped region around a celestial body where the primary gravitational influence on an orbiting object is that body. This is usually used to describe the areas in the Solar System where planets dominate the orbits of surrounding objects (such as moons) despite the presence of the much more massive (but distant) Sun. In the patched conic approximation, used in estimating the trajectories of bodies moving between the neighbourhoods of different masses using a two body approximation (ellipses and hyperbolae), the SOI is taken as the boundary where the trajectory switches which mass field it is influenced by.

The general equation describing the radius of the sphere of a planet:


is the semimajor axis of the smaller object's (usually a planet's) orbit around the larger body (usually the Sun).
and are the masses of the smaller and the larger object (usually a planet and the Sun), respectively.

In the patched conic approximation, once an object leaves the planet's SOI, the primary/only gravitational influence is the Sun (until the object enters another body's SOI). Because the definition of rSOI relies on the presence of the Sun and a planet, the term is only applicable in a three-body or greater system and requires the mass of the primary body to be much greater than the mass of the secondary body. This changes the three-body problem into a restricted two-body problem.


Table of selected SOI radiiEdit

Body SOI radius (106 km) SOI radius (body radii)
Mercury 0.112 46
Venus 0.616 102
Earth 0.924 145
Moon 0.0661 38
Mars 0.576 170
Jupiter 48.2 687
Saturn 54.6 1025
Uranus 51.8 2040
Neptune 86.8 3525

These are all taken relative to the Sun, except for the Moon, which is relative to the Earth.

Increased accuracy on the SOIEdit

The Sphere of influence is, in fact, not quite a sphere. The distance to the SOI depends on the angular distance   from the massive body. A more accurate formula is given by


Averaging over all possible directions we get


See alsoEdit


  • Sellers, Jerry J.; Astore, William J.; Giffen, Robert B.; Larson, Wiley J. (2004). Kirkpatrick, Douglas H., ed. Understanding Space: An Introduction to Astronautics (2nd ed.). McGraw Hill. pp. 228, 738. ISBN 0-07-294364-5. 
  • Danby, J. M. A. (2003). Fundamentals of celestial mechanics (2. ed., rev. and enlarged, 5. print. ed.). Richmond, Va., U.S.A.: Willmann-Bell. pp. 352–353. ISBN 0-943396-20-4. 
  • Project Pluto