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Challenge Team Interim Report

 Team Number: 034 School Name: Albuquerque Academy Area of Science: Astronomy Project Title: Lucifer's Hammer
 Abstract Interim Final Report

The objective of the project is to successfully model the solar system with the intent of calculating, with a relatively high degree of accuracy, the trajectory and other data relevant to the movement of an entity such as a comet or asteroid through our solar system. Clearly, the path of this object will be determined both by factors specific to the object and the interaction of gravitational forces produced by stellar bodies.

In order to simplify this very complex and computationally intensive project we will make the assumption that each of the planets, except for Uranus and Saturn have established stable orbits. This assumption is very reasonable as it will allow us to use several well established mathematical methods to model the orbital motion of any given planet, as well as take into account that Uranus and Saturn are planets whose orbits are fairly heavily disrupted by their interaction with other planets. The orbit of these two will be dealt with through N-body calculations.

Upon successful derivation of the equations which will allow us to calculate planetary motion, the matter of starting positions for the planets must be dealt with. This will be handled using an established mathematical technique that can be used to predict the position of all of the planets on any given date. This will be integrated into the simulation for purposes of giving us a highly accurate model, as well as the ability to set up a different beginning orientation each time the simulation is run. At this point we are considering gathering data on multiple runs in which the travelling object's properties are constant while the planetary orientation is different. This, in addition to runs in which both planetary orientation and object properties are changed, will enable us to determine trends and perhaps make a few definite conclusions regarding the nature of the se interactions.

Upon completion of the solar system design, we will be turning our attention to writing routines which will be responsible for modeling the gravitational interactions between the object and the stellar bodies within our Solar System. One of the most important aspects of our project is the ability to check our calculations against what is, to some degree, an infinite amount of empirical data. The methods we are employing have already been checked against empirical data in order to verify their accuracy and reliability.

The progress to date has been quite substantial. We have obtained a number of useful reference materials and have begun experimenting with several mathematical models which we are intending to use in the model. In addition to the large amount of substantive and necessary research, we have written a generous portion of the code, with as much as two thirds of the solar system complete. Similarly, we have made substantial progress on the positional determination aspect of the model.

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