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Department of Physics

Physics 8.901: Astrophysics I

PROBLEM SET 1 (corrected)

NOTE ON CORRECTIONS: Minor typos in the first equation of Problem 2 and in Problem 3b have

been corrected. Also, note that parts (b) and (c) of Problem 2 are somewhat flawed, in that the premise that

the data points will lie on a straight line is not in fact true for samples of different composition. You may

omit parts (b) and (c). As an extra credit question, note the addition of an optional part (d) for Question 2.

Due: Thursday, February 12 in class

Reading: Phillips, The Physics of Stars, Chapters 1.

1. Historical astronomy: Fundamental length scales. Accurately determining distances and sizes in

astrophysics remains a fundamental and challenging problem to this day. However, a number of surprisingly accurate measurements can be made simply with the naked eye. The ancient Greek philosopher

Aristotle (c.384322 B.C.) was able to deduce that the Earth was spherical from observations like the

shape of the Earths shadow during lunar eclipses and the changing view of stars in the sky during

travel from north to south. A number of fundamental length scales in our solar system were also

correctly deduced by the ancient Greeks.

(a) Size of the Earth. Eratosthenes (c.276196 B.C.) deduced the size of the spherical Earth using

the following facts: (1) On a particular summer day each year, the Sun penetrated to the bottom

of a very deep well (and thus was directly overhead this point is called the zenith) in the town

of Syene (now Aswan); (2) On the same day in Alexandria, the Sun at mid-day was 7 south of

the zenith; (3) Alexandria was north of Syene by a distance of just under 5000 stadia, where 1

stadium is about 160 meters. Eratosthenes assumed that the Sun is sufficiently distant that its

rays can be treated as parallel. Use these facts to reproduce Eratostheness inference of the radius

of the Earth. (You may use the value of .) Compare this to the modern value of 6378 km.

(b) Size and distance of the Moon. Aristarchus (c.310233 B.C.) calculated these using information from a lunar eclipse. Use Timothy Ferriss composite photograph of a lunar eclipse (on the

web at http://web.mit.edu/8.901/images/moon.png) to make a similar calculation. The diagram below indicates the relevant geometry. You should make use of small angle approximations

where appropriate.

Western Limb

1/4o

Umbral Shadow

1/4o

Moon

Earth

Center of Solar Disk

Eastern Limb

D

i. Assume that only the darkest part of the Earths shadow (the umbra) corresponds to total

eclipse. Estimate the diameter of the circle roughly corresponding to the umbral shadow on

the composite image, and also the diameter of one of the lunar images. Note that the center

of the shadow does not lie on the line connecting the path of Moons center why not?

ii. Compute the radius of the Moon compared to that of the Earth. Be sure to account for the

proper geometry of the umbral shadow at the distance of the Moon; for this purpose, you may

take the angular diameter of both the Sun and the Moon to be 0.5 . Estimate the uncertainty

in your answer, given the uncertainty in your estimate of the diameter of the umbral shadow.

Compare to the modern value of 6378/1738=3.67.

iii. Taking the angular diameter of the Moon to be 0.5 , calculate the Earth-Moon distance D

in terms of the Earths radius.

(c) Distance to the Sun. Aristarchus also estimated this. In the diagram below, the Moon at Q

is at first quarter, so that the angle EQS is 90 . (Note that EQ is not perpendicular to ES.)

The interval from new Moon (at position N ) to first quarter (at Q) is 35 min shorter than that

from first quarter to full Moon (at F ). Given that the lunar synodic period (the interval between

two identical lunar phases) is 29.53 d, estimate the Earth-Sun distance (ES) in terms of the

Earth-Moon distance.

Q

F

E

S

2. The age of the Sun. How old is the Sun? Two things are certain: the Sun is older than the Solar

System, and the Solar System is as old as the oldest rocks in the Solar System. In practice, tectonic

activity gives rise to rocks with a wide range of ages, but the oldest terrestrial rocks, and also the

oldest rocks from meteors and from the Moon, have ages approaching 4.55 109 years. This sets a

lower limit to the age of the Sun.

In this problem, we illustrate how the naturally occuring isotopes of uranium, 235 U and 238 U, can be

used to determine the age of rocks. Both isotopes decay via a sequence of -decays and -decays to

form stable isotopes of lead; the decay chain of 235 U ends up with 207 Pb, and the decay chain of 238 U

ends up with 206 Pb. As a result, the number of uranium nuclei in a rock decays exponentially with

time as:

N5 (t) = N5 (0)e5 t andN8 (t) = N8 (0)e8 t ,

where the last digit of the isotope mass number has been used as a subscript label. The decay

constants 5 and 8 for the two isotopes correspond to half-lives of T5 = ln 2/5 = 0.7 109 years

and T8 = ln 2/8 = 4.5 109 years. The magnitudes of these half-lives are ideally suited to the

determination of rock ages which are over a billion years old.

Now consider a set of rock samples which were formed at the same time, but with different chemical

composition. They differ chemically because different chemical elements are affected differently by

the processes of rock formation. However, rock formation processes do not favor one isotope over

another. For example, on formation, the relative abundances of 235 U and 238 U should be the same in

every sample. Similarly, the relative abundances of 207 Pb and 206 Pb should also be the same in every

sample. However, these abundances will change with time as the uranium isotopes decay into lead.

(a) Consider the ratio of the increase in the number of 207 Pb nuclei relative to the increase in the

number of 206 Pb nuclei. Show that this ratio is the same for all rock samples which were formed

at the same time, and show it is given by

N5 (t) exp(5 t) 1

N7 (t) N7 (0)

.

=

N6 (t) N6 (0)

N8 (t) exp(8 t) 1

(b) (You may omit this part: see correction note on first page) Consider a graph in which the

measured abundances in the rock samples of 207 Pb and 206 Pb are plotted, with N7 (t) along the

y-axis and N6 (t) along the x-axis. Show that a straight line will be obtained if all the samples

were formed at the same time.

(c) (You may omit this part: see correction note on first page) Given that the current ratio of

naturally occurring 235 U to 238 U is 0.0071, evaluate the gradient of the straight line for the rock

samples of age 109 years, 3 109 years, and 5 109 years.

(d) Extra credit: As noted in the correction on page 1, the approach described in parts (b) and (c)

above is not completely correct. For extra credit, consult suitable resources in the library or on

the web and summarize briefly the correct explanation of how uranium-lead radioactive dating is

used for determining ages of old rocks.

3. Central pressure in stars. Useful bounds can be set on the pressure at the center of a star without

detailed structure calculations. Consider a star of mass M and radius R. Let P (r) be the the pressure

at a distance r from the center and m(r) be the mass enclosed by a sphere of radius r.

(a) Show that in hydrostatic equilibrium, the function P (r) + Gm2 (r)/8r4 decreases with r. Hence

show that the central pressure satisfies the inequality

1/3

1 4

Ghi4/3 M 2/3 ,

Pc >

6 3

where hi is the mean density.

(b) If you assume that the density (r) decreases with r (which is reasonable), it is possible to derive

a tighter lower bound and a useful upper bound on the central pressure. Show that

1/3

1 4

Ghi4/3 M 2/3 .

Pc >

2 3

(c) In addition, show that

1

Pc <

2

4

3

1/3

2/3

G4/3

,

c M

4. The Kepler problem: hyperbolic motion. In class, we derived the Kepler equation for elliptical

motion, t = e sin , which relates the eccentric anomaly to the time t since pericenter passage,

the eccentricity e 1, and the orbital angular frequency . For hyperbolic motion, the analog of the

eccentric anomaly is the angle 0 , defined such that the trajectory can be written as r = a(e cosh 0 1),

where e > 1 and a(e 1) is the distance of closest approach to the focus (the pericenter distance).

Find an analog to the Kepler equation for hyperbolic motion, which specifies the time t since closest

approach as a function of 0 .

5. Tidal evolution of the Earth-Moon system. In this problem, you will compute the evolution of

the Earth-Moon system by considering the tidal coupling between the Moons orbit and the Earths

rotation. Angular momentum may be exchanged between these two components but must be conserved

overall. Energy may be lost from the system via the heat generated by tidal friction. You should neglect

any effects due to the rotation of the Moon.

(a) Write down expressions for the total energy E and total angular momentum J of the EarthMoon system. Some useful symbols will be the Earths angular rotation frequency ; the Moons

(Keplerian) orbital frequency ; the masses of the Earth and Moon, Me and Mm ; the Earths

moment of inertia I; and the mean separation of the Earth and Moon, a.

(b) Use the equation for J to eliminate from the energy equation.

(c) Show that the energy equation can be cast into the dimensionless form

1

= + (j s1/2 )2 ,

s

where is the total energy in units of (Gme mm /2a0 ), j is the total angular momentum in units

of (a20 0 ), s = a/a0 is the dimensionless separation, is the reduced mass, and the subscript

0 refers to values at the present epoch in history.

(d) Find numerical values for and j. Look up the masses of the Earth and Moon, and take the

Earths moment of inertia to be (2/5)Me Re2 and a0 = 3.84 105 km.

(e) Graph the dimensionless energy equation to find the two values of s for which is an extremum.

(f) Find the same two values of s quantitatively by differentiating the energy equation and solving the

resulting nonlinear equation numerically by the Newton-Raphson method or some other scheme.

Show that = at these orbital separations. Find the corresponding orbital period of the Moon

and rotation period of the Earth.

(g) Find the difference in energy E between the current epoch and the time in the future when the

Earths rotation and the Moons orbit will be synchronous.

(h) Estimate the rate of energy dissipation due to tidal friction by assuming that, twice per day, the

top 1-m layer of the oceans is lifted by 1-m and then lowered. Further assume that a few percent

of this mechanical energy is dissipated as heat.

(i) From the energy dissipation rate and total energy E that must be lost in order for the Earth

to come into rotational equilibrium with the Moons orbit, estimate the time (from the current

epoch) when this equilibrium configuration will be reached.

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