#### Transcript The Universal Force of Gravity

Module 4: The Wanderers Activity 2: The Universal Force of Gravity Summary: In this Activity, we will investigate (a) elliptical orbits and Kepler’s Laws, (b) Newton’s Law of Gravitation, and (c) apparent weightlessness in orbit. (a) Elliptical Orbits and Kepler’s Laws Some orbits in the Solar System cannot be approximated at all well by circles - for example, Pluto’s separation from the Sun varies by about 50% during its orbit! According to Kepler’s First Law, closed orbits around a central object under gravity are ellipses. As a planet moves in an elliptical orbit, the Sun is at one focus (F or F’) of the ellipse. v r F’ C F The line that connects the planet’s point of closest approach to the Sun, the perihelion ... v perihelion r F’ C F … and its point of greatest separation from the Sun, As a planet moves in an elliptical orbit, the Sun is at one the aphelion focus (F or F’) of the ellipse v perihelion is called the major axis of the ellipse. r F’ aphelion C F The only other thing we need to know about ellipses is how to identify the length of the “semi-major axis”, because that determines the period of the orbit. “Semi” means half, and so the semi-major axis a is half the length of the major axis: v r F’ C a F a For circular orbits around one particular mass - e.g. the Sun we saw that the period of the orbit (the time for one complete revolution) depended only on the radius r - that was Kepler’s 3rd Law: For objects orbiting a common central body (e.g. the Sun) in approximately circular orbits, the orbital period squared is proportional to the orbital radius cubed. M r m v Now here’s the mathematics…. We can write Kepler’s third law: the orbital period squared is proportional to the orbital radius cubed in mathematical notation as: radius R m Period P where G and 4p2 are constants and M is the mass of the Sun This comes from equating the gravitational and centrifugal forces: = and noting that the circular velocity: Let’s see what determines the period for an elliptical orbit: For elliptical orbits, the period depends not on r, but on the semi-major axis a instead. v r F’ C a F a It turns out that Kepler’s 3rd Law applies to all elliptical orbits, not just circles, if we replace “orbital radius” by “semi-major axis”: For objects orbiting a common central body (e.g. the Sun) the the orbital orbital period period squared squared is is proportional proportional to to the radiusaxis cubed. the orbital semi-major cubed. Each of these orbits has the same semi-major axis length a: Note that a circle is a special case of an ellipse, where r = a. So if each of these orbits is around the same massive object (e.g. the Sun), then as they all have the same semi-major axis length a, then, by Kepler’s Third Law, they have the same orbital period. Click here to see a simulation illustrating Kepler’s Third Law. So, as you saw in the simulation, bodies orbiting at large distances have much longer orbital periods. For the mathematically inclined, the square of the period P of the orbit increases in proportion to the P cube of the period semi-major axis a: distant planets have much large orbital periods a semi-major axis We haven’t yet met Kepler’s Second Law. That’s because it’s not at all interesting for circular, or almost circular orbits. But if we look at a quite eccentric elliptical orbit, for example, that of Halley’s comet: Comet Halley in 1910 Neptune Sun Comet Halley Note that Comet Halley’s orbit is retrograde, which means that it orbits the Sun clockwise when viewed from the north pole. This is the the opposite sense to that of the planets. An object in a highly elliptical orbit travels very slowly when it is far out in the Solar System, … but speeds up as it passes the Sun. According to Kepler’s Second Law, … the line joining the object and the Sun ... … sweeps out equal areas in equal intervals of time. equal areas That is, Kepler’s Second Law states that the line joining a planet and the Sun sweeps out equal areas in equal intervals of time. (b) Newton’s Law of Gravitation We call the force which keeps the Moon in its orbit around the Earth gravity. Sir Isaac Newton’s conceptual leap in understanding of the effects of gravity largely involved his realisation that the same force governs the motion of a falling object on Earth - for example, an apple - and the motion of the Moon in its orbit around the Earth. Isaac Newton discovered that two bodies share a gravitational attraction, where the force of attraction depends on both their masses: MSun MEarth Both bodies feel the same force, but in opposite directions. MSun MEarth This is worth thinking about - for example, drop a pen to the floor. Newton’s laws say that the force with which the pen is attracting the Earth is equal and opposite to the force with which the Earth is attracting the pen, even though the pen is much lighter than the Earth! Newton also worked out that if you keep the masses of the two bodies constant, the force of gravitational attraction depends on the distance between their centres: mutual force of attraction Note that the gravitational force is larger the closer the objects are together. For any two particular masses, the gravitational force between them depends on their separation as: magnitude of the gravitational force between 2 fixed masses, Fgrav as the separation between the masses is increased, the gravitational force of attractions between them decreases quickly. distance between the masses, R Your pen dropping to the floor and a satellite in orbit around the Earth have something in common - they are both in freefall. To see this, remember Newton’s thought experiment from the Activity Solar System Orbits: On all these trajectories, the projectile is in free fall under gravity. (If it were not, it would travel in a straight line that’s Newton’s First Law of Motion.) If the ball is not given enough “sideways” velocity, its trajectory intercepts the Earth - that is, it falls to Earth eventually. trajectories which complete orbits, OnOn allthe these trajectories, themake projectile is in free fall.the projectile is travelling “sideways” fast enough ... … that as it falls, the Earth curves away underneath it, and the projectile completes entire orbits without ever hitting the Earth. (c) Apparent Weightlessness in Orbit This astronaut on a space walk is also in free fall. The astronaut’s “sideways” velocity is sufficient to keep him or her in orbit around the Earth. Let’s take a little time to answer the following question: Why do astronauts in the Space Shuttle in Earth orbit feel weightless? Some common misconceptions which become apparent in answers to this question are: (a) there is no gravity in space, (b) there is no gravity outside the Earth’s atmosphere, or (c) at the Shuttle’s altitude, the force of gravity is very small. Click on each alternative to see why we claim that it’s a misconception! Then see if you agree with our explanation ... In a spacecraft (like the Shuttle) in Earth orbit, astronauts are in free fall, at the same rate as their spaceships. On allisthese That why they trajectories, experience the weightlessness: projectile is in free just fall. as a platform diver feels while diving down towards a pool, or a sky diver feels while in free fall. In the next Module we’ll look at one Solar System orbit in particular - that of the Moon around the Earth. On all these trajectories, the projectile is in free fall. Image Credits NASA: View of Australia http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/image/planetary/earth/gal_australia.jpg NASA: Halley in 1910 http://pds.jpl.nasa.gov/planets/gif/smb/hal1910.gif NASA: Space Shuttle http://lisar.larc.nasa.gov/LISAR/IMAGES/SMALL/EL-1994-00718.jpeg Now return to the Module home page, and read more about gravity in the Textbook Readings. Hit the Esc key (escape) to return to the Module 4 Home Page (a) There is no gravity in space? At face value, this statement doesn’t bear too much examination, because Newton’s Law of Gravitation has been applied right from its inception to the motion of the Moon and planets - and they are in space. When people make this assumption, perhaps what they are really saying is that the sort of gravity which makes us feel heavy only exists on planetary surfaces - but Newton developed the Law in the first place by realizing that gravity as it acts on Earth (e.g. on an apple) is the same force as that which acts on the Moon and planets. Back to the alternative answers (b) There is no gravity outside the Earth’s atmosphere? Like (a), at first glance this misconceptions seems naïve, because Newton’s Law of Gravitation has been applied right from its inception to the motion of the Moon and planets - and they are in space. However what this statement might really be revealing is a link many people perceive between gravity and air: in other words, the mistaken idea that gravity does not exist in a vacuum - that air, in some way, makes things heavy. In fact, air actually makes objects feel very, very slightly lighter - like buoyancy in a tank full of water, except that air is so much less dense than water that the effect is not noticeable. The misconception that links gravity and air shows up in some science fiction movies too - watch for the one where a Concorde-type plane “mistakenly” ends up in Earth orbit. The passengers inside the plane can walk around, with a bit of care, but astronauts sent up to help them float weightlessly about outside! Back to the alternative answers (c) At the Shuttle’s altitude, the force of gravity is very small? This statement sounds reasonable - after all, the Shuttle is way out in space - until you check it with calculations. In fact, compared to the radius of the Earth (6378 km), a typical Shuttle altitude above the Earth’s surface of 200 km or so is pretty negligible. At that altitude, the force of gravity is only 5% less than on the Earth’s surface. Back to the alternative answers