Specific relative angular momentum

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See also: Classical central-force problem

In celestial mechanics, the specific relative angular momentum (h) of two orbiting bodies is the vector product of the relative position and the relative velocity. Equivalently, it is the total angular momentum divided by the reduced mass.[1] Specific relative angular momentum plays a pivotal role in the analysis of the two-body problem.


Specific relative angular momentum, represented by the symbol \mathbf{h}\,\!, is defined as the cross product of the relative position vector \mathbf{r}\,\! and the relative velocity vector \mathbf{v}\,\!.

\mathbf{h} = \mathbf{r}\times \mathbf{v} = { \mathbf{L} \over \mu }


The units of \mathbf{h}\,\! are m2s−1.

The \mathbf{h}\,\! vector is always perpendicular to the instantaneous osculating orbital plane, which coincides with the instantaneous perturbed orbit. It would not necessarily be perpendicular to an average plane which accounted for many years of perturbations.

As usual in physics, the magnitude of the vector quantity \mathbf{h}\,\! is denoted by h\,\!:

h = \left \| \mathbf{h} \right \|

Elliptical orbit

In an elliptical orbit, the specific relative angular momentum is twice the area per unit time swept out by a chord from the primary to the secondary: this area is referred to by Kepler's second law of planetary motion.

Since the area of the entire orbital ellipse is swept out in one orbital period, h\,\! is equal to twice the area of the ellipse divided by the orbital period, as represented by the equation

 h = \frac{ 2\pi ab }{2\pi \sqrt{ \frac{a^3}{ G(M\!+\!m) }}} = b \sqrt{\frac{ G(M\!+\!m) }{a} } = \sqrt{a(1-e^2) G(M\!+\!m) } = \sqrt{ p G(M\!+\!m) }.


See also


  1. Pandian, Jagadheep D. "Eclipse" (PDF). Curious about Astronomy?. Cornell University.