The tides at a given place in the Earth's oceans occur about an hour later each day. Since the Moon passes overhead about an hour later each day, it was long suspected that the Moon was associated with tides. Newton's Law of Gravitation provided a quantitative understanding of that association.
In this situation, which is illustrated schematically in the adjacent figure, we say that differential forces act on the body (the Earth in this example). The effect of differential forces on a body is to distort the body. The body of the Earth is rather rigid, so such distortion effects are small (but finite). However, the fluid in the Earth's oceans is much more easily deformed and this leads to significant tidal effects.
Without getting too much into the technical details, there are two bulges because of the differential gravitational forces. The liquid at point A is closer to the Moon and experiences a larger gravitational force than the Earth at point B or the ocean at point C. Because it experiences a larger attraction, it is pulled away from the Earth, toward the Moon, thus producing the bulge on the right side. Loosely, we may think of the bulge on the left side as arising because the Earth is pulled away from the water on that side because the gravitational force exerted by the Moon at point B is larger than that exerted at point C. Then, as our idealized Earth rotates under these bulges, a given point on the surface will experience two high and two low tides for each rotation of the planet.
The side of the Earth facing the moon is 6400km closer than the side away. The differential forces are 3% of the moon's total gravitational force but this is enough to produce the effect.
As we sit on the beach and watch for the tides, the surface of the earth is actually rotating underneath the water that is being pulled.
|Competition between the Sun and Moon in producing tides.|
For example, particularly large tides are experienced in the Earth's oceans when the Sun and the Moon are lined up with the Earth at new and full phases of the Moon. These are called spring tides (the name is not associated with the season of Spring). The amount of enhancement in Earth's tides is about the same whether the Sun and Moon are lined up on opposite sides of the Earth (full Lunar phase) or on the same side (new Lunar phase). Conversely, when the Moon is at first quarter or last quarter phase (meaning that it is located at right angles to the Earth-Sun line), the Sun and Moon interfere with each other in producing tidal bulges and tides are generally weaker; these are called neap tides. The figure shown above illustrates spring and neap tides.
Tides also affect orbital motion. The tidal bulges also pull the moon a little bit ahead in its orbit. Then the moon is accelerated and it moves out to a larger radius. The effect moves the moon outward 3.8cm per year. This can be measured by bouncing laser beams off of the moon and measuring the time it takes for the signal to return. Reflectors were left by Apollo astronauts.