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Figure 1: Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994 after breaking up under the influence of Jupiter's tidal forces during a previous pass in 1992.

The tidal force is a secondary effect of the force of gravity and is responsible for the tides. It arises because the gravitational force exerted by one body on another is not constant across it; the nearest side is attracted more strongly than the farthest side. Thus, the tidal force is differential. Consider the gravitational attraction of the moon on the oceans nearest the moon, the solid Earth and the oceans farthest from the moon. There is a mutual attraction between the moon and the solid earth which can be considered to act on its centre of mass. However, the near oceans are more strongly attracted and, since they are fluid, they approach the moon slightly, causing a high tide. The far oceans are attracted less. The attraction on the far-side oceans could be expected to cause a low tide but since the solid earth is attracted (accelerated) more strongly towards the moon, there is a relative acceleration of those waters in the outwards direction. Viewing the Earth as a whole, we see that all its mass experiences a mutual attraction with that of the moon but the near oceans more so than the far oceans, leading to a separation of the two.

In a more general usage in celestial mechanics, the expression 'tidal force' can refer to a situation in which a body or material (for example, tidal water) is mainly under the gravitational influence of a second body (for example, the Earth), but is also perturbed by the gravitational effects of a third body (for example, the Moon). The perturbing force is sometimes in such cases called a tidal force<ref>"On the tidal force", I N Avsiuk, in "Soviet Astronomy Letters", vol.3 (1977), pp. 96–99</ref> (for example, the perturbing force on the Moon): it is the difference between the force exerted by the third body on the second and the force exerted by the third body on the first.<ref>See p.509 in "Astronomy: a physical perspective", M L Kutner (2003).</ref>


Tidal force sections
Intro   Explanation    Effects of tidal forces    Mathematical treatment    See also    References    External links   

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