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1. Why is the gravitational potential energy of two masses negative? Note that saying

because thats what the equation gives is not an explanation!

Solution

The gravitational potential energy represents the energy of the system, which you can

think of as the amount of work that it took to put the system together. Because the

masses attract each other gravitationally, then they naturally fall together. This means

that the work was done for us, and so the system has negative energy. This is also the

amount of energy that wed need to add to the system to break it apart. Since wed

need to do work on the system to break it apart (ending up with zero total energy), we

had to start with a negative energy. The same thing occurs with oppositely-charged

particles like protons and electrons, which also have negative electrostatic potential

energy.

2. One of the greatest discoveries in astronomy in the past decade is the detection of

planets outside the solar system. Since 1996, more than 100 planets have been detected

orbiting stars other than the Sun. While the planets themselves cannot be seen directly,

telescopes can detect the small periodic motion of the star as the star and planet orbit

around their common center of mass. (This is measured using the Doppler effect.)

Both the period of this motion and the variation in speed of the star over the course

of time can be determined observationally. The mass of the star is found from its

observed luminance and from the theory of stellar structure. Iota Draconis is the

eighth brightest star in the constellation Draco. Observations show that a planet, with

an orbital period 1.50 y, is orbiting this star. The mass of Iota Draconis is 1.05MSun .

(a) Estimate the size (in AU) of the semimajor axis of this planets orbit.

(b) The radial speed of the star is observed to vary by 592 m/s. Use conservation of

momentum to find the mass of the planet. Assume the orbit is circular, we are

observing the orbit edge-on, and no other planets orbit Iota Draconis. Express

the mass as a multiple of the mass of Jupiter.

Solution

(a) We can determine the semimajor axis using Keplers law, which says that T 2 =

4 2 3

a , where T is the period (in years), M is the mass of the star, and a is the

GM

size of the semimajor axis (in AU). So, solving for a gives

a3 =

GM T 2

.

4 2

T2

= 1 is just the orbital period of the Earth, one year!

1.05(1.5)2 , since a3 = GM

4 2

So, we just find a = (1.05(1.52 ))1/3 = 1.33 AU.

(b) The star and its planet are orbiting about their common center of mass. We can

treat this like an elastic collision problem in which the momentum is conserved.

In this case the momentum of each body is equal mv = M V , where m is the mass

of the planet with velocity v, and M is the mass of the star with velocity V . If

the velocity is found to change by a certain amount in the elastic collision, then

the velocity of the star is half that change by conservation of momentum (it starts

off heading one way, then it heads the other after the collision). Solving for the

mass of the planet is m = Vv M . The velocity of the planet is just v = 2a/T , so

VT

M.

2a

Now, plugging in the different values, and recalling that the mass of Jupiter is

mJ = 1.90 1027 kg, gives

m=

m=

1

592(1.50

2

365 24 3600)

(1.05 2 1030 ) = 2.33 1028 kg = 12.5mJ .

2(1.33 1.5 1011 )

2

3. Some people think that the shuttle astronauts are weightless because they are beyond the pull of Earths gravity. In fact, this is completely untrue.

(a) What is the magnitude of the gravitational field in the vicinity of a shuttle orbit?

A shuttle orbit is about 400 km above the ground.

(b) Given the answer in Part (a), explain why shuttle astronauts suffer from adverse biological effects such as muscle atrophy even though the are not actually

weightless.

Solution

(a) The shuttle orbits at a distance of r = RE + h from the center of the Earth, where

RE is the radius of the Earth, and h is the height above the surface. If the height

is h = 400 km, then r = 6400 + 400 = 6800 km, or 6.8 106 meters. At this

point, the gravitational field has a magnitude

g=

GME

=

= 8.6 m/s2 ,

r2

(6.8 106 )2

which is still almost 90% of the acceleration at the surface of the Earth.

(b) Remember that the weight that we feel is due to the normal force. The astronauts

in orbit are in constant free-fall, and dont feel their weight. So, without the

compensating normal force to fight against the muscles begin to weaken, not

needing to do as much anymore.

4. Calculate the mass of Earth from the period of the moon, T = 27.3 d; its mean orbital

radius rm = 3.84 108 m; and the known value of G.

Solution

Earth

, where

The moon is held to the Earth by the gravitational force, FG = G mmoonrM

2

r is the orbital radius. Now, because the orbit is (pretty much) circular, then the net

v2

. But, for an object moving

force on the moon is the centripetal force, Fcent = mmoon

r

in a circle, then v = 2r/T , and so

Fcent

mmoon

=

r

2r

T2

2

=

4 2

mmoon r.

T2

Because the orbit is stable this force is equal to the gravitational force. Setting the

two forces equal gives

mmoon MEarth

4 2

mmoon r = G

.

2

T

r2

Solving for the mass of the Earth gives

MEarth =

4 2 3

r .

T 2G

MEarth =

4 2 3

4 2

r

=

(3.84 108 )3 = 6 1024 kg.

T 2G

(2.36 106 )2 (6.672 1011 )

5. The Principle of Equivalence states that the free-fall acceleration of any object in a

gravitational field is independent of the mass of the object. This can be deduced

from the law of universal gravitation, but how well does it hold up experimentally?

The Roll-Krotkov-Dicke experiment performed in the 1960s indicates that the free-fall

acceleration is independent of mass to at least 1 part in 1012 . Suppose two objects are

simultaneously released from rest in a uniform gravitational field. Also, suppose one of

the object falls with a constant acceleration of exactly 9.81 m/s2 , while the other falls

with a constant acceleration that is greater than 9.81 m/s2 by one part in 1012 . How

far will the first object have fallen when the second object has fallen 1.00 mm farther

than the first object has? Note that this estimate provides only an upper bound on

the difference in the accelerations; most physicists believe that there is no difference in

the accelerations.

Solution

The first object has an acceleration g = 9.81 m/s2 , while the other has a different

acceleration, g + g = 9.81 (1 + 1012 ) m/s2 , where g = 9.81 1012 m/s2 . Now,

if released from rest, the first object will fall a distance d1 = 21 gt2 , while the second

object will have fallen a distance d2 = 12 (g + g)t2 = 21 gt2 + 21 gt2 . Now, the difference

in distance that the two objects will have fallen is d = d2 d1 = 21 gt2 .

p

Now, solving d1 = 21 gt2 for the time of fall gives t = 2d1 /g. Plugging this in for d

gives

1

2d1

g

d = g

=

d1 .

2

g

g

Now, solving for the distance, recalling that g = 1012 g, we find

d1 =

g

d = 1012 d.

g

So, if the first object has traveled an extra distance d = 103 m, then the distance

that its fallen will have been

d1 = 1012 d = 1012 103 = 109 m.

So, the two objects will have to fall a distance of a billion meters to get out of step by

1 millimeter!

6. (a) If we take the potential energy of a 100 kg object and Earth to be zero when the

two are separated by an infinite distance, what is the potential energy when the

object is at the surface of Earth?

(b) Find the potential energy of the same object at a height above Earths surface

equal to Earths radius.

(c) Find the escape speed for a body projected from this height.

Solution

(a) The gravitational potential energy of two objects of masses m and M , separated

by a distance r is

mM

,

P Egrav = G

r

which sets the potential energy to zero when the objects are infinitely far apart

(r ). So, if the object is on the surface of the Earth, then r = RE , and

M = ME , and

mME

P Eg = G

.

RE

Now, we can rewrite this recalling that for Earth, g =

P Eg = G

GME

2 .

RE

Thus,

mME

GME

= m 2 RE = mgRE .

RE

RE

Now, if the radius of the Earth is 6400 km, or 6.4 106 meters, then

P Eg = mgRE = (100)(9.8)(6.4 106 ) = 6.3 109 J.

(b) The potential energy at a distance of r = RE + RE = 2RE will just be

P Eg = G

mME

1

= mgRE = 3.15 109 J.

2RE

2

(c) To determine the escape velocity from this distance we just recall the usual method

setting KE + P E = 0, so 21 mv 2 = 12 mgRE , giving

vesc =

p

p

gRE = (9.8)(6.4 103 ) = 8 km/s,

which is smaller than the escape velocity from the surface of the earth (vesc 11

km/s), as we should expect.

on the y axis at y = L.

(a) What is the direction of the gravitational field at the origin?

(b) What is the magnitude of this field?

Solution

i at the origin, while

(a) The mass m at x = L creates a gravitational field ~gx = Gm

L2

Gm

the mass at y = L creates a field ~gy = L2 j at the origin. The net gravitational

field at the origin is just the sum of the two fields, ~g = ~gx + ~gy , or

m

~g = G 2 i + j .

L

p

(b) The magnitude of the field is g = |~g | = gx2 + gy2 = G Lm2 12 + 12 = 2Gm

.

L2

8. A straight, smooth tunnel is dug through a uniform spherical planet of mass density

0 . The tunnel passes though the center of the planet and is perpendicular to the

planets axis of rotation, which is fixed in space. The planet rotates with a constant

angular speed , so objects in the tunnel have no apparent weight. Find the required

angular speed of the planet .

Solution

, where M is the planetary

The object falls due to the gravitational force, FG = G mM

r2

mass beneath the object (recall that only the mass between an object and the center of

the planet makes any difference, gravitationally). Lets figure out how much mass this

is.

Because the density is constant, then the total mass inside a radius r is Min = 0 Vin =

r3 . So, the net gravitational force on the object is

0 4

3

FG = G

4Gm0

mMin

=

r.

2

r

3

2

At some radius, the gravitational force is balanced by the centripetal force, Fcent = mvr ,

causing it to seem to be weightless. Since v = r, we can write Fcent = mr 2 . Setting

the two forces equal gives

4Gm0

r = mr 2 .

3

Notice that the mass and radius of the object cancels out. Solving for the angular

speed gives

r

4G0

=

.

3

9. Black holes are objects whose gravitational field is so strong that not even light can

escape. One way of thinking about this is to consider a spherical object whose density

is so large that the escape speed at its surface is greater than the speed of light, c. If a

stars radius is smaller than a value called the Schwarzschild radius RS , then the star

will be a black hole, that is, light originating from its surface cannot escape.

(a) For a nonrotating black hole, the Schwarzschild radius depends only upon the mass

of the black hole. Show that it is related to that mass M by RS = (2GM ) /c2 .

(b) Calculate the value of the Schwarzschild radius for a black hole whose mass is ten

solar masses.

Solution

(a) The escape velocity of a spherical mass M with radius R is given by

r

2GM

.

vesc =

r

If we want light to be unable to escape from the surface, then the escape velocity

has to be greater than, or equal to, the speed of light. Thus, setting the escape

velocity vesc = c and solving for the radius gives

RS =

2GM

.

c2

(b) The mass of the sun, Msun = 2 1030 kg. So, we can determine the Schwarzschild

radius for this black hole,

RS =

2GM

2 6.67 1011 10 2 1030

=

= 29.6 km.

c2

(3 108 )2

So, the mass of ten suns is squashed into a ball about the size of a large city.

10. It is believed that there is a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

One datum that leads to this conclusion is the important recent observation of stellar

motion in the vicinity of the galactic center. If one such star moves in an elliptical orbit

with a period of 15.2 years and has semimajor axis of 5.5 light days (the distance light

travels in 5.5 days), what is the mass around which the star moves in its Keplerian

orbit?

Solution

Keplers law says that the square of the period, T , of an orbit is proportional to the

cube of its semimajor axis, a, so

T2 =

4 2 3

a.

GM

M=

4 2 3

a.

GT 2

Now, we can just plug in numbers. One year has about 107 seconds, while one

day has 3600 24 = 86400 seconds. So, one light day is 3 108 86400 = 2.6 1013

meters. So,

4 2

4 2 3

13 3

a

=

5.5

2.6

10

M=

= 7.5 1036 kg.

2

11

7

2

GT

6.7 10 (15.2 10 )

Our sun has a mass of about 2 1030 kg, and so this star has a mass of nearly four

million suns! This is clearly a black hole.

10

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