Testing gravity with interstellar precursor missions

Indranil Banik, Pavel Kroupa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


We consider how the trajectory of an interstellar precursor mission would be affected by the gravity of the Sun in Newtonian and Milgromian dynamics (MOND). The solar gravity is ≈50 per cent stronger in MOND beyond a distance of ≈7000 astronomical units, the Sun fs MOND radius. A spacecraft travelling at 0.01 of light speed reaches this distance after 11.1 years. We show that the extra gravity in MOND causes an anomalous deceleration that reduces its radial velocity by ≈3 cms-1 and the two-way light travel time from the inner Solar System by ≈0.1 s after 20 years. A distinctive signature of MOND is that the gravity from the Sun is not directly towards it. This is due to the nonlinear nature of MOND and the external gravitational field from the rest of the Galaxy, which we self-consistently include in our calculations. As a result, the sky position of the spacecraft would deviate by up to 0.2 mas over 20 years. This deviation is always in the plane containing the spacecraft trajectory and the direction towards the Galactic centre. By launching spacecraft in different directions, it is possible to test the characteristic pattern of angular deviations expected in MOND. This would minimize the chance that any detected anomalies are caused by other processes like drag from the interstellar medium. Such confounding factors could also be mitigated using an onboard accelerometer to measure non-gravitational forces.We briefly discuss how the gravity theories could be conclusively distinguished using a Cavendish-style active gravitational experiment beyond the Sun fs MOND radius.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2665-2672
Number of pages8
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
Early online date3 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


  • Dark matter
  • Gravitation
  • ISM: general
  • Proper motions
  • Solar neighbourhood
  • Space vehicles


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