You are on page 1of 21


HSC Physics Summary

Ben 2010-present

NOTE: Elements, graphics and diagrams used in this summary have been gathered from websites such as Google to
produce a better quality summary for purely personal educational purposes. All copyright rights and responsibilities of
phrases/graphics/diagrams belong to their respective owners.

UNIT 1: Space

Earths Gravitational Field
Factors of a Rocket Journey (Projectile Motion)
Gravity in the Solar System
Theories of Time & Space (Aether + Special Relativity)

a. Definitions

Weight (N)

Work (W)


The force (Newtons) that acts upon an object due to the

presence of a gravitational field. The magnitude of the weight
force depends on the strength of the field at a point and the
mass of the object:
FW = mg
FW is weight in Newtons
m is mass in Kilograms
g is acceleration due to gravity in ms-2
Work is a measure of energy required to displace an object a
specific distance. Work is given by the formula:
W = Fs
W is work in joules
F is force in Newtons
s is displacement in metres
Region in which a mass experiences a force towards the centre of
gravity usually the centre of a large mass (e.g. planet) The
gravitational force experienced by a mass at a point is given by
Netwons Gravitational Force Equation:

Fg =
Fg is the gravitational force in Newtons (N)
G is the universal gravitational constant (6.67x10-11 Nm2kg-2)
d is the distance between the centre of the two masses (m)
mo & mp are the masses of the object and planet respectively (kg)

The acceleration due to gravity (g) caused by a mass (planet) is given




Energy (Ep)

g is the acceleration due to gravity in ms-2
G is the universal gravitational constant (6.67x10-11 Nm2kg-2)
d is the distance from the centre of the mass (planet) in metres
Acceleration due to gravity at earths surface is 9.8ms-2 downwards
A numerical constant existing in many of Newtons equations. It equal

G = 6.67 x 10-11 ( units: Nm2kg-2 )

Potential energy possessed by a mass according to its position within a
gravitational field. The work done on an object to raise it from the
surface of a planet to a higher altitude is equivalent to the objects Ep:
Ep = mass x gravity x height = mgh
Conversely, work is done by gravity to lower an object and reduce its
On an Astronomical scale, Ep = 0 at an infinite distance away ( )
i.e. At any tangible distance, Ep < 0, as represented by the equation:

Ep =
Ep is Gravitational Potential Energy in joules
G is the universal gravitational constant (6.67x10-11 Nm2kg-2)
d is the distance between the centre of the two masses (m)
m1 & m2 are the masses of the object and planet respectively (kg)
Any moving object that moves only under the sustained force of
The velocity that must be attained by an object in order to escape the
gravitational field of a planet. Escape velocity is determined by the
Escape Velocity mass and radius of the planet. Earths escape velocity is 11.2 kms

v2 =


A G-Force is a unit of force acting upon an Astronaut. Multiple GForces equate to multiples of the Astronauts regular Weight Force.
The G-force scale is an easily understood and communicated scale.
The scale is applicable to all Astronauts, regardless of their mass. This is
because the force they experience will be relative their personal weight.

g-force =
Frame of time during which a rocket needs to be launched so that it
Launch Window reaches its destination at the right time. Launch windows are largely
based upon Earths rotation and Earths orbit around the sun.

Uniform Circular Motion is undergone by objects travelling along a

circular path. The circular path is caused by the objects velocity, which
attempts to keep it travelling straight, while an external centripetal
Circular Motion
force (such as gravity) directed towards the axis at a right angle causes
it to follow a circular path for as long as the centripetal force acts.

Keplers Law of
This equation, derived from Newtons Law of Universal Gravitation,

Orbital Decay
Point of
Weightless ness

can be used to find the orbital period, T, of any orbiting mass

around any planet.
Orbital Decay refers to the orbital descent and eventual fall to
earth experienced by satellites in LEO orbits. It is caused by
atmospheric drag.
Atmospheric friction causes a satellite to lose forward velocity,
and hence causes it to lose altitude (according to Fc < Fg.)
Friction slows the satellite, causing it to lose altitude where there is
more friction which further slows the satellite and so on!

Thermosphere. Upper layers of Earths atmosphere (80km 640km)

Outermost sphere of Earths Atmosphere extending 9600km.
Return of a spacecraft into Earths atmosphere and subsequent descent
to Earth
An object between the moon and earth will experience a point of
weightlessness where the gravitational attraction due to gravity from
both the Earth and moon will be equal and opposite.
a.k.a. Gravity Assist Effect. Method used by astronauts to slingshot a

Slingshot Effect spacecraft around a planet, exploiting its gravitational field to

accelerate the craft.

a.k.a Geosynchronous orbit. An orbit in which a satellite travels with the

earths atmosphere, remaining at the same point in the sky relative to
earths surface. (e.g. Foxtel, Communications, GPS.)
Satelites in LEO are usually between 250-1000km above sea level, and
Low Earth Orbit never higher than 1500km. They have shorter periods (1-5 hours) and
their position in respect to earth is constantly changing.
(e.g. satellite imaging, weather forecasting, spying.)
The art of making scientific discoveries accidentally. Many major
breakthroughs in science have been stumbled upon in this manner.
(e.g. Michelson & Morely)
Electromagnetic Self-propagating waves of varying wavelengths that travel at the speed
of light (c). They do not need a medium through which to travel and
include all the radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum. (e.g. x-rays)
A comparison between a quantity to a selected standard and expressing
Measurement the measured quality as a factor of that standard. (e.g. 2 x std. metre)
All measured quantities are relative quantities.
SI unit / Standard of length. The distance travelled by light in a vacuum

in the fraction


of a second. (i.e. defined in terms of time)

Events will occur at different times in different frames of reference

based upon the observers velocity. Both perspectives are correct.
Observers in relative motion will disagree on the simultaneity of
events separated in space.
No object can travel faster than the speed of light (c = 3x108 ms-1)

Scalar or Vector Quantity

SI Units

Distance / Displacement / Radius

Time / Period (T)
Speed / Velocity
Impulse / Momentum
Work Done / Gravitational Potential Energy

metres (m)
metres-per-second (ms-1)
Newton-seconds (Ft)
Kilogram-metres-per-second (Kgms-1)

b. Earths Gravitational Field

DOT POINTS 1.1.1 1.1.3

Mass (the amount of matter of which an object consists) does not change with location
Weight (the force acting upon a mass due to gravity) changes according to gravity
Gravitational Fields are regions in which a mass experiences a force towards the centre
of gravity usually the centre of a large mass (e.g. planet) the gravitational force of
such a field at a point is given by Newtons Gravitational Force Equation:

Fg =
This equation is derived from the below equation, from which g (a) is replaced by

(F = ma)

The acceleration due to gravity (g) at a point caused by a large mass is given by:

This formula can be used to ascertain the acceleration due to gravity (g) on the surface of any given planet

PRACTICAL: Perform an investigation to determine a value for acceleration due to gravity using pendulum
motion and identify reasons for possible deviations from the correct value of 9.8ms-2

AIM: Determine acceleration due to gravity using a pendulum and compare experimental
results to published results. The relationships between the period (T) of a simple pendulum
is related to its length (l) and acceleration due to gravity (g) is shown by:

EQUIPMENT: Retort stand, bosshead and clamp, roll of string, masses, stopwatch

Set up a retort stand and clamp on the edge of a desk and tie a length of string to it
Tie a 200g mass 1 metre down the string (cut off excess string)
Release the masses from 20o deviation from vertical
Using a stopwatch, time how long it takes for the pendulum to complete 10 full periods
Record this time in a results table with the corresponding length of string
Perform a total of three times for each length of string
Shorten the length of string by 10cm after each set of three trials and repeat steps 4-7
until results are obtained for a string length of 50cm.

The trial for each different length of string could be repeated several more times
to allow for greater accuracy
Observing the time taken for 20 Periods to pass instead of 10 will reduce the error
involved with the reaction time of the person with the stopwatch
A light gate could be used to gather more precise measurements of the period of
the swing
Due to Earths spin, there is a slight bulge at the equator and flattening at the
poles. Because the force of a gravitation field (Fg) acting upon an object is directly
proportional to

, an objects elevation affects the force it experiences.

The density and chemical composition of the Earths crust between an object and
the origin of force influences the magnitude of the force the object experiences
this is because there is more mass per volume, which equates to greater force.

How is a change in gravitational potential energy related to work done?

The Gravitational Potential energy possessed by an object is determined by its mass

and its distance from the centre of a gravitational field.
The work done (Force x Displacement) on an object to move it away from the centre of
gravity is equivalent to the Ep possessed by that object:
Work Done = Gravitational Potential Energy
W = Ep
This method of deriving Ep applies exclusively in terrestrial situations within Earths atmosphere
Define gravitational potential energy as the work done to move an object from a very large distance
away to a point in a gravitational field.

On an Astronomical scale, a separate trail of logic applies when finding Ep

Newtons Law of Universal Gravitation is the basis for this logic:
The gravitational attraction forces existing between two objects decreases with d2
Therefore, Fg and Ep only reach 0 when the object is an infinite distance away
BUT! The Ep possessed by an object increases equivalent to the work done to move the
object away from the centre of gravity and towards infinity
Hence, an object gains Ep as it gets closer towards infinity (where Ep = 0)
Therefore, the value of an objects Ep at any tangible location has to be less than that
which it possesses at infinity (i.e. at any tangible distance, Ep < 0)
Therefore, Ep has a negative value, as represented by the equation:

Ep =
As the object travels from infinity to earth, Ep decreases until it reaches the surface, where Ep = 0

c. Factors of a Rocket Journey (Projectile Motion)

Describe the trajectory of an object undergoing projectile motion within the Earths gravitational field in
terms of horizontal and vertical components.

TWO types of Projectile Motion:

Oblique Motion:
o Launched at an angle of elevation
o Initial velocity (u or v0) can be illustrated using a vector
diagram [right]
o Horizontal Velocity remains constant (Ux = Vx)
o At the apex,
Vy = 0
and t
initial =
Horizontal Motion:
o Launched horizontally (usually from a height)
o No vertical velocity at launch (Uy = 0)
o Height is vertical displacement (Sy)
o Horizontal Velocity remains constant (Ux = Vx)



Describe Galileos analysis of projectile motion

1. Projectiles follow a perfect parabolic path

2. Trajectory be split into two components: vertical and horizontal
3. Horizontal velocity remains constant ( Ux = Vx ) It isnt influenced by a sustained force
4. Vertical velocity is uniformly accelerated downwards at 9.8ms-2 due to gravity
5. Projectiles are subject only to their own inertia and the sustained force of gravity

Solve Projectile Motion Problems using horizontal and vertical components in combination with Newtons
equations of motion

Newtons Equations of Motion:

v = u + at
v2 = u2 + 2as
s = ut + at2

Ux = ucos
Vx = ux (a = 0)
Vx2 = ux2
Sx = Uxt (a = 0)

Uy = usin
Vy = uy + 9.8t
V2 = uy2 + 2aysy
Sy = uyt + at2

Explain escape velocity in terms of the gravitational constant and the mass & radius of the planet

To escape Earths gravitational pull, a projectile fired from the surface of Earth needs to be
given kinetic energy equal to its gravitational potential energy:

EK = m1v2

Ep =

EK > Ep
m1v2 >
v2 >
Escape velocity increases with the planets mass and decreases with distance from the centre of gravity.
Escape velocity is independent of the projectiles mass.

Outline Newtons concept of escape velocity

Newton theorised his principle based on a hypothetical scenario in which a projectile is

fired from an impossibly high vantage point as such as speed (8000ms-1) that it never lands
due to the balancing factors of the Earths curvature and gravity.
(i.e. the object enters
orbit when fired fast enough.) He thus reasoned that if an object were to be fired faster
than this theoretical value (8kms-1), it could escape earths gravitational field.

Earths escape velocity is 11.2kms-1

Identify why the term g-forces is used to explain the forces on an astronaut

G-forces are multiples of the normal weight force experienced on Earth

The G-force scale is used to easily communicate the force acting upon an astronaut,
expressing it in terms of what they normally experience.
The G-force scale is applicable to every individual based on their personal, unique mass.
This is because experienced forces are relative to their mass.

g-force =
1g = 9.8 ms-2 ; In a rocket accelerating upwards at 9.8ms-2, astronauts experience 2g = 19.6ms-2

Perform a first-hand investigation to calculate initial and final velocities, range and time of flight of a
i.e. Mega Marble LauncherTM
Projectile Motion Class Assignment\Projectile Motion Assignment Mega Marble Ludicrous Launcher
with graph.docx

To determine and graph the relationship between the launch angle and range of an oblique
projectile using the Mega Marble Launcher - and hence find the optimum launch angle that
corresponds to the maximum range possible.


Ensure all personelle wear safety goggles at all times throughout the experiment
Conduct experiment in isolated area secluded from students and other hazards
Only fire projectile when the firing range is clear and all personnel are behind the line of fire

1. Set up the Mega Marble Launcher in a remote location, pointed in a direction with at least 50m of
space and free from obstruction.
2. Arm the launcher, first setting the launch angle to 20o and placing a marble into the shaft. (Ensure all
marbles launched in the experiment are of the same size and shape)
3. When the firing range is clear, launch the marble.
4. Measure the range with a measuring tape and retrieve the marble. Record this value for the range in a
table like the one below with the corresponding launch angle:
Launch Angle
Range (m)
5. Repeat the trial with the same launch angle a total of 5 times to ensure reliable results are collected.
6. Repeat steps 2-5 with a launch angle of 30o, 45o, then again for 60o, completing each trial a total of 5
times to ensure reliable results are collected.
7. Graph the results, with launch angle (o) on the horizontal axis and average range (m) on the vertical.


Results show range increasing with the launch angle to a maximum value
achieved at 45o, (as was hypothesised) then decreasing for 60o. The closer to 45o
the angle, the greater the range achieved. The relationship between the range and
the launch angle is non-linear. The range of a projectile is not directly
proportional to its launch angle; the relationship between these variables is more
complex. An online source shows the relationship to be:

R = V2 x

The muzzle velocity is only sufficient to achieve small ranges experimental

results are more bunched up and hence variations in range are harder to detect.
There are only 4 launch angle settings (20o, 30o, 45o, 60o), making it difficult
to conduct a comprehensive analysis.



The contour and texture of the test range (grass) caused the marble to roll or
bounce upon landing.
The crosswind proved to be a major factor that influenced the results
Perform more trials for each launch angle to obtain reliable results
Apply a greater consistent launching force to the marbles so that longer, more
diverse (and hence comparable) ranges are reached.
Use a firing range that is flat and sheltered to minimise wind resistance and/or
projectile bouncing and rolling.

Analyse the changing acceleration of a rocket during launch in terms of Conservation of Momentum and
the forces experienced by astronauts

Rocket launch, Momentum and Forces

At launch, the downward momentum of exhaust gases provides equal upward

impulse (F x t) to propel the rocket (Newtons 3rd law) :
Momentum of Rocket

Momentum of Exhaust

Because change in momentum of an object is equal to the impulse of an applied

force, so the impulse of the exhaust gases down will equal the impulse applied to the
rocket upwards:

Pilots experience vision problems at 4g, and lose consciousness at 8g. 3g was
once considered safe.
Astronauts can survive up to 20g if:

They lying down (stops blood draining from head)

Facing opposite to the direction of force (stops eyes from popping out)
The forces acting upon a rocket during its launch and flight include:

Weight Force (down)

Thrust (up; Thrust > Fw)

Reaction force (up while stationary; =0 when in flight)


Discuss the effect of Earths orbital and rotational motion on rocket launches

Effect of Earths motion on Rocket Launch

The earth spins counter-clockwise (when viewed from above the north pole)
Rockets are launched eastward from the equator, where the rotational speed of the
earth is greatest, and adds an extra 1700kmh-1 to their trajectory.
The orbital speed of the Earth around the Sun can also be harnessed to attain greater
velocity in respect to the solar system (used for Intra-Solar-System travel.)
Less fuel needs to be spent to attain escape velocity and more storage mass (payload)
can be carried if rotational speeds are harnessed.
Launch Windows are frames of time during which a rocket must be launched to arrive
at its destination at the right time taking full advantage of orbital speeds.

Analyse the forces involved in uniform circular motion for a range of objects, including orbiting satellites

Uniform Circular Motion is undergone by objects travelling along a circular path.

The circular path is caused by the objects velocity, which attempts to keep it travelling
straight, while an artificial centripetal force directed towards the axis at a right angle
causes it to follow a circular path for as long as the centripetal force acts.
Centripetal Force / Acceleration:

Fc Acts towards the centre of the Circular Locus

Direction (and velocity) change continuously due FNET
Velocity & Centripetal force keep object in motion
Speed Remains constant

Fc =

ac =

In the context of a rocket orbiting earth, the force of gravity is considered the
centripetal force as the rocket produces a right-angle velocity around earth.
To stay in orbit, a satellite needs to maintain a speed in proportion with the earths
gravity, its own mass (m) and its distance from Earths centre (r.) This is because the
centripetal force (Fc = gravity, in this case) will remain constant, so the satellite must
adjust its velocity to balance it and thus undergo uniform circular motion.

In Orbit: Fc = Fg

Fg =

Fg = Gravitational Force acting upon the object as given by Fg =

R = radius of orbit centre-to-centre (in metres)
v = Orbital speed of object [ms-1]
m = mass of object in orbit (in kilograms)


Compare qualitatively, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Geostationary Orbits


Low Earth Orbit Satellites

Geostationary Satellites


(<1500km) 250 1 000 km

90mins 5hrs
Usually Polar Orbit
Constantly moving about Earth
Satellite Imaging, Weather
Forecasting, Spying
Closer High Resolution Images
Fast High gravitational pull

35 800 km
~24hrs (1 Earth-day)
Equatorial Orbit
Fixed position above Equator
Communications, GPS, Foxtel,
bounce signals
Constant Line-of-sight to Receivers
Slow Low gravitational pull


Outline the contribution of Tsiolkovsky to space exploration

Tsiolkovsky (1898-1935):
1. Calculated escape velocity
2. Suggested propulsion by reaction
3. Designed (didnt build) multistage rockets
4. Examined potential medical implications for Astronauts
5. First to suggest using oxygen + hydrogen as fuels
Define Orbital Velocity and its relationship with G, the mass of the planet and satellite, and the radius of
the orbit, qualitatively and quantitatively

Orbital Velocity
Orbital velocity is simply the speed at which the satellite is travelling.
It can be calculated by dividing the distance it travels in its orbit by its orbital period:

When an object is in orbit:

Rearranging the equation

v2 =


Fc = Fg



The orbital velocity of an object is dependent only upon the mass of the planet and the orbital radius


Solve problems using Keplers Law of Periods

Keplers Law


into the above equation for Orbital Velocity (where


This equation, known as Keplers Law of Periods, can be used to find the orbital
period, T, of any orbiting mass around any planet.
When solving questions, first find the ratio

= k then equate the ratio (k) to the radius and period of

the planet (Keplers law), substituting the pronumeral for the unknown quantity and solve.

Account for orbital decay of satellites in LEO

Orbital Decay refers to the orbital descent and eventual fall to earth
experienced by satellites in LEO orbits. It is caused by atmospheric drag.
Atmospheric friction causes a satellite to lose forward velocity, and hence
causes it to lose altitude (according to Fc = Fg.)

As the satellite loses altitude, encounters more atmospheric friction as it descends

further into earths ionosphere, where particles are more densely packed. This
extra friction causes it to slow further and hence descend further, and so on.
Discuss issues associated with safe re-entry into the atmosphere and landing on the surface

Safe Re-entry

At 92km, spacecrafts experience intense heat atmospheric friction

Space Shuttle = 7.5kms-1 / Apollo 11.1kms-1 Atmosphere slows
Heat ionises surrounding air, blocking out radio communications
Little noise as it glides without motors and heat shield in front
Shuttle = 16 mins / Apollo 3-4 mins
Maximum heating experienced at 80km altitude
Apollo Craft Heat shield temperature = 3 000oC

Safety Devices used to ensure safe re-entry:

Blunt Nose + Wings + Belly distribute heat

Sacrificial Skins initially metal alloys later fibreglass & heat-resistant
ceramics: absorb heat and vaporise
Coated spongifoam fibreglass (90% air) is lightweight and its coat prevents
it from absorbing moisture.
Before splash-down, multiple Drogue shuts are deployed.


Identify optimum angle for re-entry into Earths atmosphere and consequences of failing to achieve this

The optimum re-entry angle for survival: 6.2o to the horizontal (plus or minus 1o)
Angle too shallow: Spacecraft bounces off atmosphere and be lost in space
Angle too large: g-forces will exceed fatal magnitudes and capsule melts
The purpose of the re-entry angle is to minimise the g-forces experienced by
the astronauts while still preventing the craft from bouncing off the atmosphere.

d. Gravity in the Solar System

DOT POINTS 3.1 3.3

Gravitational Fields

Gravitational fields are regions in which a mass experiences a force

All bodies exert Gravitational fields proportional to their mass

Newtons Law of Universal Gravitation

Every object in the universe attracts every other object with a
gravitational force that is depended upon:

the masses of both objects

the distance between both objects centres of gravity

Newtons Law of Universal Gravitation is

represented by the Equation:

Fg =

Because we know the value of g on earth (9.8ms-2), the gravitational force acting
on any object on earths surface is given by its weight force:

F = mg

The following formula can be used to

determine the value of g on any planet:


G = 6.67 x 10-11 (universal gravitational constant)

r = distance between the objects centres of gravity
mo/p = mass of the object/planet respectively


Discuss factors that affect the strength of gravitational force

Altitude higher elevation equates to a further distance from the centre of

gravity and hence a smaller gravitational force will exist at higher altitudes
Position on Earth The earth isnt a perfect sphere: the equator has a
higher elevation than the poles, hence gravitational force is less at the
equator, as gravitational attraction (force) becomes less with distance2.
Density of Earths Crust Different parts of the earths crust have greater
density (more mass per volume) than others (e.g. land / ocean) Regions with
greater density will exhibit a slightly greater gravitational force.

Discuss the importance of Newtons Law of Universal Gravitation in calculating the motion of satellites

Gravity and Satellite Motion

Newtons gravitational Equation lets us calculate orbital velocities of satellites

From it, we derive the formula for gravitational potential energy ( Ep =

Formula is used to explain and calculate launch windows & the slingshot effect
Gravity is the reason rocket launches are expensive and require so much energy
Identify that a slingshot effect can be provided by planets for space probes

a.k.a = Gravity Assist Effect

Refers to the method used by astronauts to slingshot a spacecraft around a
planet, exploiting its gravitational field to accelerate the craft.
Maximum velocity is harnessed when the craft passes around the planet in the
direction of rotation. The velocity gained will be twice the rotational speed
of the planet.
Passing a craft around a planet opposing its direction of rotation will slow the craft
Relative to the planet, the craft does not appear to gain/lose speed, but relative
to the sun, the object speeds up/slows down.
The slingshot effect is technically a non-elastic collision that occurs between the
craft and planet. The rotational kinetic energy of the planet is transferred to the
craft as translational (straight line) kinetic energy. The planet has lost kinetic
energy, but its mass is so large in comparison, this amount is negligible.

e. Theories of Time & Space (Aether + Special Relativity)

Outline the features of the aether model for the transmission of light.

The Aether Theory:

In the scientific search for the properties of light during the 19th century, scientists
proposed the existence of an invisible medium, which they called aether, through which
light was thought to travel in the same manner as other waves (sound, water, seismic.)


The properties of this alleged light-medium, aether, were:

o Had no mass, Filled all space, had low density and was perfectly transparent
o Frictionless, distributed evenly throughout universe, incompressible, rigid
o Had great elasticity to support and propagate light waves
After many years of attempting to prove the existence of aether, two conclusions were
finally drawn about the proposed medium:
o Aether does not exist
o Electromagnetic waves (including light) are self-propagating waves (no medium)
Describe and evaluate the Michelson-Morley attempt to measure the relative velocity through the aether .

Conducted by Michelson and Morley in 1887:


measure the velocity of the Earth relative to the aether.


A beam of light emitted by a light source was split by a half-slivered mirror and sent at 90o
to one another towards two different mirrors
They were reflected back and combined, such that both rays travelled the same distance to
reach a detector at the end of their journey.
The whole apparatus was floated on liquid mercury which enabled a smooth rotation of the
entire experiment.


If the light rays were being influenced by an Aether flow,

(across/upstream) the rays would strike the detector at
different times, producing an interference pattern.
Also, as the experiment was rotated, the aether wind was
expected to slow or hasten the speed of light in a particular
direction, thus causing a changing interference pattern.
Despite extensive testing and repetition, no interference
pattern was observed and the experiment was a null result.


The null result did NOT disprove the theory immediately: scientists were forced to reconsider the model and
create ad-hoc explanations (aether drag.)
The result was later used by Einstein to support his theory of relativity and to disprove the aether model.

Although it was a failure, the conclusion drawn from the null result was both valid and reliable and
changed scientific theory dramatically, making it one of historys most important experiments.
Gather and process information to interpret the results of the Michelson-Morley experiment

The Michelson & Morely experiment was based upon the presumption that aether remained
stationary while earth moved through it. They expected to detect this motion of the earth through the
aether by observing how much the light was influenced when it travelled through the aether wind


In much the same way that two boats travel the same distances, one up the current and the other
across the current, the light rays were expected to arrive at different times according to whether they
were moving against the aether or across it, as earth moved through the aether.
The table upon which the experiment was conducted floated upon a pool of mercury, allowing the
entire experiment to be rotated. M&M were looking to detect any differences in velocity or
interference patterns when they altered the direction at which the light moved through the aether.
No such change in interference pattern resulted, therefore providing a null result.
o There is no stationary background medium (aether) in space moving relative to the earth
o All moving objects (frames of reference) receive light travelling at the same speed in a
vacuum in all directions.
Since the Earth was known to move, the aether model was pronounced flawed, later to be disproved
by Einstein, who used these results in confirming his theories of the constancy of the speed of light.
The experiment supported Einsteins theory that light remains constant, and refuted the aether model
Outline the nature of inertial frames of reference

A frame of reference is an environment from which an observer can conduct an observation

Einstein proposed that there are two distinct frames of reference:

Inertial Frames of Reference

An inertial frame of reference is an environment or system travelling with uniform velocity

In an inertial frame of reference, all of Newtons laws are obeyed (e.g. addition of velocities)
No observation can be made within an inertial frame of reference to determine whether the
frame is moving or at rest. (e.g. if there were no windows in a train travelling at uniform
velocity, the passengers would not be able to detect the trains motion by any means.)
Discuss the principle of relativity.

There is no absolute frame of reference in the universe, as everything is in motion. All motion
is simply relative to other motion (e.g. when still, we are stationary relative to earths surface)
In 1905, Einstein published a paper proposing a Special Theory of Relativity. This theory
superseded Newtonian Relativity.
Special relativity is based upon two fundamental principles:
1. The laws of physics are the same for all inertial frames of reference.
2. The speed of light (c) is constant for all observers regardless of their velocity
These principles inferred the following visible implications for observers:
o Length contracts in the direction of motion
o Time dilates (object appears to slow as the seconds lengthen)
o Mass increases with velocity
Length, Mass and Time distort to keep the speed of light constant for all observers
The speed of light (c) is the only thing that remains constant in the universe

Einsteins theory of special relativity, in conflict with the popular scientific theory of aether,
was revolutionary and hesitantly received. The theory was based upon thought
experiments and hence, it could not be experimentally proven for a number of years.

Describe the significance of Einsteins assumption of the constancy of the speed of light.

Special relativity assumes that the speed of light remains constant for all observers (c)
This means that all observers will measure the speed of light travelling at the same speed
This idea is in conflict with Newtonian logic, which implies that light will exceed the value of c
when light is emitted from a fast-moving object according to vector addition
Employing the logic of Einsteins relativity, we can accurately determine how objects behave
at relativistic velocities (e.g. time dilates, length contracts, mass increases)
There exists a space-time continuum, in which any event has 4 dimension: 3 spacial
coordinates and 1 time coordinate

Analyse and interpret some of Einsteins thought experiments involving mirrors and trains and discuss the
relationship between thought and reality.

Einstein had two main thought experiments:

Looking at himself in a mirror on a train moving at the speed of light

Bouncing light from the roof to the floor and back in a moving train


Einstein wondered whether he would be able to see his face normally in a mirror he held
in front of his face if the train was travelling at the speed of light.
He decided that he would be able to, because he was in an inertial frame and should
have no way to determine he was moving at c.
But with vector addition, a stationary observer would see light travelling away from
Einsteins face at c, but as the train was also moving at c, the observer would see light
travel twice the distance in the same amount of time.
o Einsteins interpretation of this was that the time observed for light to travel that
distance had changed (increased), so that a stationary observer would see light
travelling at c.


Inside the moving train, the light is seen to travel straight up and down from the roof to
floor and back again.
From a stationary observer however, the light is seen to travel a much longer path, but in
the same amount of time, which would result in a changed speed of light (going against
Einsteins theory)
Again his interpretation was that time had slowed (dilated) so that c remains constant.


Thought experiments (gedankens) can be useful tools to perform experiments that

cannot be performed in reality, such as a train moving at c, and to make meaningful
conclusions as Einstein did.
However, it is very easy to misinterpret thought experiments, either through flawed logic
of failing to take into account other factors that would influence a real-life experiment.

Identify that if c is constant then space and time become relative.
In traditional physics, the behaviour of light had to adapt to the motion of the observer. With the light of
speed being a constant under Einsteins theory, the dimensions involved in motion have to adapt to light.
This means that space and time become relative to velocity so that c is always constant.
Explain that length is defined in terms of time

A metre was once defined as

of the circumference of the Earth, and then later as the distance

between two lines on a platinum-iridium bar, which provided the standard measure of the metre.
However, today the metre is defined as the distance light travels in

seconds. This means that

distance is calculated with respect to time a unit of distance measure in terms of how much distance
light travels in a period of time. (like a light-year, the distance light travels in one year)
Analyse information to discuss the relationship between theory and evidence supporting it, using
Einsteins predictions based on relativity that were made many years before evidence was available

Scientific hypotheses cannot be proven/disproven (become theory) without evidence or experimental

procedure. For this reason, Einsteins hypothesis regarding the constancy of light was initially regarded
with caution amongst the scientific community. In recent years, as new technology has become
available, scientists have experimentally proven what Einstein theorised about light and relativity:

Atomic Clocks have been raced around the world in extremely fast jets to test
Einsteins prediction of time dilation. The results showed that the precision atomic
clocks aboard the jets had slowed by a few nanoseconds, hence time dilates at high
A muon is a particle similar to an electron, but heavier. When stationary it has a half
life of around 2 microseconds, but when accelerated in a particle accelerator to
speeds up to 0.9994c, it was found their observed half life was around 60
microseconds confirming Einsteins theory.
Explain the consequences of special relativity in relation to the relativity of simultaneity

A number of consequences and equations have arisen from Relativity:


Events observed to be simultaneous in one frame may not be simultaneous in another

This idea of simultaneity is dependent on the frame from which events are observed

EXAMPLE: Consider a train moving at a relativistic velocity

o A light source emits light that travels from the centre to the two ends of the carriage.
o From an observer inside the carriage, the light will reach the ends simultaneously as the
distance travelled is equal.
o For a stationary observer however, the distance for the light to travel initially is the same, but
the motion of the train means that the light reaches the rear of the carriage first as the front
of the carriage is moving away from the light.
o Therefore the event does not happen simultaneously for both frames.



Lv = Lo

A stationary observer sees a moving object contract in the direction of relativistic motion
The moving observer sees the stationary observer contract in the direction of motion


Tv =

Seconds measured by the stationary observer seem longer than those measured by the moving observer

Seconds measured by both observers seem to remain the same but the clocks in the other frame of
reference (either faster or stationary) seem to run slower in comparison.
All clocks, biological or mechanical run slower because time itself is passing more slowly


Mv =

When an object travels at relativistic velocities, the mass of the object increases
This has implications for the limiting velocity that can be achieved by an object:

All of these observations are true only when the frame being observed and the frame of observation are
both inertial frames of reference. Note also that these changes are actual changes in the properties of


E = mc2

This equation shows the rest energy of an object and also the amount of energy released if matter
is destroyed and converted into pure energy. (e.g. nuclear reactions, fission, fusion etc;)

Length, Time and Mass all change in proportion to keep the speed of light constant
Discuss the implications of mass increase, time dilation and length contraction for space travel.

Allows travel into the future at high speeds, but not back to the past.
Astronauts travelling in a relativistic spacecraft will age slower than people back on earth, which
means they can comparatively live longer during space travel and people on earth will pass away


As a space craft speeds up, the apparent distance to objects ahead decreases. This means trips on a
relativistic spacecraft will appear to cover less distance to observers in the spacecraft.


As the speed of a spacecraft increases to the speed of light, its mass will increase up to infinity and
hence restricting the velocity it is able to achieve.


Travelling at a constant velocity (constant thrust), mass increases causing acceleration to decrease as
the thrust becomes less and less effective requiring more fuel.