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Weight is the force on an object due to a gravitational field

Gravitational field
g =Gmr2

Finding g from a Pendulum

Variations in g can be caused by:

• Experimental error (errors from the process of measurement)

• The radius of the Earth (greater at the equator than at the poles)
• The thickness of the lithosphere
• The presence of dense ore bodies

Acceleration Due to Gravity

The weight force of an object can be found using the formula:

• F = mg

Work and Gravitational Potential Energy

• When work is done on an object, there is a corresponding change in
kinetic and/or potential energy of the object (e.g. as we lift an object from
the ground to a height above the Earth’s surface, we do work on it. This
work is stored in the object as gravitational potential energy)
• Ep = mgh

Definition of Gravitational Potential Energy

• Gravitational potential energy is the work done to move an object from a
very large distance away to a point in a gravitational field
• It can be measured using the formula Ep =-Gm1m2r
• Zero potential energy can only be achieved at an infinite distance from the
centre of the Earth
• Potential energy is negative near the Earth

Projectile Motion
• If two objects of the same or different mass are released from the same
height and allowed to fall straight down, they reach the ground at the
same time, assuming air resistance is ignored. Similarly, one object falling
straight down and another projected horizontally from the same height,
also reach the ground at the same time.
• The horizontal motion has no effect on the vertical motion of a projectile
(i.e. they are both independent)
• Horizontal and vertical equations for projectile motion:

Horizontal components of Vertical Components of

motion motion

ux = u cosθ uy = u sinθ

vx = ux vy = uy + ayt

Δx = uxt vy2 = uy2 + 2ayΔy

Δy = uyt + ½ayt2

Galileo’s Analysis of Projectile Motion

• A projectile has an accelerated vertical motion, and a constant velocity
horizontal motion which occur simultaneously
• These two motions combine to make a parabolic path

Escape Velocity
• The necessary velocity to leave a planet
• During this rise, the projectile’s kinetic energy transforms into
gravitational potential energy, so that: Ek initially = Ep finally
• The escape velocity depends upon the universal gravitational constant,
the mass of the planet and the radius of the planet

Newton and Escape Velocity

As velocity is increased, the distance that the projectile would travel before
hitting the Earth would increase until such a time that the velocity would be
sufficient enough to put the object into orbit around the Earth. At this speed the
curvature of the Earth exactly matches the curvature of the projectile. A higher
velocity would lead to the object escaping from the Earth.

Circular Motion
• Objects do not perform uniform circular motion unless they are subject to
a centripetal force
• This is a force that is always perpendicular to the velocity of the object,
which causes the moving object to continually change direction so that it
follows a circular path
• The centripetal force is always directed toward the centre of the circular
• Centripetal force for a range of circular motions:

Circular motion Source of centripetal force

Ball on a string whirled in a circle Tension in the string

Car driving around a corner Friction between the tyres and the
Satellite orbiting the Earth Gravitational attraction between the
Earth and the satellite

Centripetal Acceleration
ac =v2r

Centripetal Force
Fc =mv2r

Acceleration and the Human Body

The term 'g-force' is used to express apparent weight as a proportion of true
weight. True weight cannot be felt as it is a gravitational force-at-a-distance that
acts on each atom of a person’s body. Apparent weight is what a person
experiences or feels when an external force acts on them to cause a change in
their motion (either magnitude or direction or both)

Using the Earth’s Rotation to Place the Space Shuttle into

Earth Orbit
• The rotation of the Earth on its axis, and the orbital motion of the Earth
around the Sun, can be used to provide a launched rocket with a velocity
boost. This allows the operators of the rocket to save fuel in achieving the
target velocity
• Rockets launching into orbit are launched to the east, in the direction of
the Earth’s rotation to give them a velocity boost

Launching a Rocket
• Rocket propulsion is derived from a force pair, as described in Newton’s
third law (F = -F)
• The backward force of the rocket on the exhaust gases equals the forward
force of the gases on the rocket
• Force is equal to the rate of change of momentum
• The initial momentum of the rocket and its fuel is zero. This sum must be
preserved (the Law of Conservation of Momentum)
• Since momentum = mass x velocity, and the mass is constantly
decreasing as the fuel is used up, then the velocity of the rocket increases
because the momentum is constant

Forces on Astronauts
As fuel is consumed and the exhaust gases expelled, the mass of the rocket
decreases. By Newton’s second law (F = ma), if the mass decreases, then the
rocket will increase in acceleration, and the force experienced by the astronauts
will also increase. The astronauts experience increasing g-forces, until such time
as the rocket uses up fuel in its first tank. At this time, the forces on the
astronauts reduce to zero, as no fuel is burned for a short period of time. As the
next tank begins to burn fuel and expel gases, the g-forces on the astronauts
begin to increase again.

Comparing Low-Earth Orbits with Geostationary Orbits

Low-Earth Orbits
• Low-Earth orbits are at an altitude of between 250km and 1000km and
have a period of less than 24 hours
• Examples include the space shuttle and the Hubble telescope

Geostationary Orbits
• Geostationary orbits are at an altitude of ~35,800km and have a period of
24 hours
• They are useful for communications and weather satellites

Orbital Velocity and Period

• Orbital velocity is the instantaneous speed in the direction indicated by an
arrow drawn as a tangent to the point of interest on the orbital path
• Orbital velocity and periods can be measured using the formulas v =2πrT
and T =2πrv

Relationship between Orbital Velocity, Gravitational

Constant, Mass and Radius of Orbit
• Kepler’s Law of Periods is found using the formula r3T2 = GM4π2
• v = GMr which gives the orbital velocity
• Fc = mv2r = GmMEr2

Orbital Decay
• Satellites in low Earth orbit are subject to friction with the sparse outer
fringes of the atmosphere. This friction results in a loss of energy. The loss
of energy means that this orbit is no longer viable and the satellite drops
down to an altitude that corresponds with its new, lower energy density
where it will lose more potential energy to heat energy
• This is the process of orbital decay, and it is cyclical, as the satellites new
lower orbit resides in slightly denser atmosphere, which leads to further
friction and loss of energy. The process is not only continuous but speeds
up as time goes on

Safe Re-Entry
• Heat: The considerable kinetic and potential energy possessed by an
orbiting spacecraft must be lost during re-entry. As the atmosphere
decelerates the spacecraft, the energy is converted into a great deal of
heat. This heat must be tolerated, which is done by using heat shields that
use ablating surfaces or insulating surfaces. The heat can be minimised by
taking longer to re-enter, thereby lengthening the time over which the
energy is converted to heat
• g-forces: The deceleration of a re-entering spacecraft also produces g
forces. High g-forces can be tolerated by reclining the astronaut, so that
blood is not forced away from the brain, and by fully supporting the body.
The g-forces can be minimised by extending the re-entry, slowing the rate
of descent
• During re-entry there is a radio blackout caused by overheated air
particles ionising as they collide with the spacecraft. This may be a safety
issue if contact is needed between the spacecraft and earth at this phase
of its flight
• Reaching the surface: Even after surviving the issues listed above, the
spacecraft must touchdown softly onto the surface of the Earth. Several
solutions to this problem have been employed, such as first using
parachutes and then splashing into ocean, using many parachutes before
crunching onto the ground, or by landing on an air strip (as performed by
the space shuttle).

Angle of Descent
The angle of re-entry is critical:

• Too shallow and the spacecraft will bounce off the atmosphere back into
space (due to compression of the atmosphere)
• Too steep and g-forces will be too great for the crew to survive (and the
temperature generated with the atmosphere will be too high even for the
refracting materials used)

Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation

• Newton proposed that ‘any two objects in the universe attract each other
with a force which is proportional to the product of the masses and is
inversely proportional to the square of their separation’.
• It can be expressed mathematically using the formula F = Gm1m2d2

The Gravitational Field

To calculate the gravitational field strength of an individual mass, we use the
formula g = Gmd2

The Slingshot Effect

• The slingshot effect is performed to achieve an increase in speed and/or a
change of direction
• A spacecraft is aimed close to a planet. As it approaches, the spacecraft is
caught by the gravitational field of the planet, and swings around it. The
speed acquired is then sufficient to throw the spacecraft back out again,
away from the planet. By controlling the approach, the outcome of the
maneuver can be manipulated

The Aether
• The aether was the proposed medium for light and other electromagnetic
waves, before it was realised that these waveforms do not need a medium
to travel
• The aether should:
– fill all of space and be stationary in space
– be perfectly transparent
– permeate all matter
– have low density
– have great elasticity in order to propagate the light waves

The Michelson-Morley Experiment

• The aim of this experiment was to measure the motion of the Earth
relative to the aether
• Light is sent from a source and split into two perpendicular beams by a
half-silvered mirror. These two beams are then reflected back by two
mirrors and are recombined in the observer’s eye. An interference pattern
results from these two beams.
• The result of the Michelson-Morley experiment was that no motion of the
Earth relative to the aether was detectable

The Role of Experiments in Science

• From theory came predictions that could be tested. Experiments are
performed to test the predictions, and from the results of the experiments,
judgments can be made regarding the validity of the theory. The
Michelson-Morley experiments were performed to test the prediction
(based on the aether model) that an aether wind should exist. The
Michelson-Morley experiments had null results, despite satisfying all
requirements regarding sensitivity. This did not, however, disprove the
• Various modifications of the aether theory were offered over the following
years. Each modified theory resulted in new predictions to be tested. Each
test failed
• Almost twenty years after the Michelson-Morley experiments, Einstein
proposed the theory of relativity, in which the aether model was not
needed. The theory of relativity produced its own set of predictions, not all
of which were testable at that time. As technology has improved, the
predictions have been tested and found to be correct
• The choice for scientists was as follows:
– continue to follow a theory for which no predictions proved true
– or follow an alternative theory for which prediction does prove true

Frames of Reference
• An inertial frame of reference is one that is moving with constant velocity
or is at rest
• A non-inertial frame of reference is one that is accelerating

The Principle of Relativity

The principle of relativity states that it is not possible to perform an experiment
within an inertial frame of reference to detect the motion of the frame of
reference. The only way to detect the motion of an inertial frame of reference is
by referring to another frame of reference

Relationship between Thought and Reality

One of Einstein’s thought experiments involved him on a train travelling at the
speed of light while holding a mirror at arm’s length in front of his face. He
wondered if he would see his reflection in the mirror. There are two possibilities:

• No, the reflection will not appear. This is the result predicted by the aether
model, since light can only travel at a set speed (3 × 108 m s-1) through
the aether. If the train is travelling at that speed then the light cannot
catch the mirror to return as a reflection. Unfortunately, this violates the
principle of relativity, which states that in an inertial frame of reference
you cannot perform any experiment to tell that you are moving
• Yes, the reflection will be seen because, according to the principle of
relativity, it would not be possible for the person in the train to do
anything to detect the constant motion with which he or she is travelling.
However, a person watching this from the side of the track would see the
light travelling at twice its normal speed

Einstein decided that:

• The reflection will be seen as normal, because he believed that the

principle of relativity should always hold true
• The person at the side of the track sees the light travelling normally, but
this means that time passes differently on the train and for the person at
the side of the track
• The aether model has nothing to do with it

The Special Theory of Relativity

• All observers see light travelling at the same speed (3 x 108 m.s-1)
• In the thought experiment described above, Einstein emphasised that the
train traveller and the observer at the side of the track must both see light
travelling at the same speed. This, however, means that time passes
differently for each observer.

Implications of the Constancy of the Speed of Light: Time

and Space is Relative
• In the theory of relativity, which assumes that the speed of light is
constant for all observers, time is relative as well as space. In other words,
time passes differently for different observers, depending on how fast they
are moving
• In the thought experiment described above, both observers see light
travelling at the same speed. However, the observer on the ground sees
the light travel twice as far to reach the mirror. Since speed =
distance/time, this must mean that the observer outside the train saw
the light take twice as long to reach the mirror. In other words, as seen
from outside the train, time inside the train has slowed down.

• The current definition of the metre is much more precise and accessible.
One metre is defined as the length of the path travelled by light in a
vacuum during a fraction of a second.
• This modern definition takes advantage of the constancy of the speed of
light, as well as the capability technology has given us to measure time
and the speed of light with great precision
• The light-year is another length standard defined in terms of time and the
speed of light

The Relativity of Simultaneity

A train is fitted with light operated doors. The light fitting is in the centre of the
roof, and is operated by a train traveller standing in the middle of the floor.
When the train is travelling at half the speed of light, the train traveller turns on
the light. The light travels forwards and backwards with equal speed and reaches
both doors at the same time. The doors then open, and the train traveller sees
them opening simultaneously. An observer standing outside the train watches
this happen, but sees the back door opening before the front. This is because the
back door is advancing on the light waves coming from the light, while the front
door is moving away from the light waves.
Length Contraction
Length contraction of a moving object relative to a stationary observer can be
found using the formula lv = lo1- v2c2 where:

• lo is the length of the object as viewed by an observer inside the object

• lv is the length of the object as viewed by a stationary observer
• v is the speed that the object is travelling at
• c is the speed of light

To rearrange this formula to find the velocity of the object we use the formula v
= c1- lo2lv2

Time Dilation
Time dilation of a moving object relative to a stationary observer can be found
using the formula tv = to1- v2c2 where:

• tv is the rate that time passes inside the object as viewed by a stationary
• to is the rate that time passes as viewed by an observer inside the object

To rearrange this formula to find the velocity of the object we use the formula v
= c1- to2tv2
This also works with mass dilation.

Mass Dilation
Mass dilation of a moving object relative to a stationary observer can be found
using the formula

mv = mo1- v2c2 where:

• mv is the mass of the object as viewed by a stationary observer

• mo is the mass of the object as viewed by an observer inside the object

When we do work on an object we increase its kinetic energy. As the speed
approaches c we still do work but the kinetic energy does not increase
significantly. The work goes into increasing the objects mass according to
Einstein’s famous equation: E = mc2

Space Travel and Relativity

• Provided that relativistic speeds could be reached, the nearest stars
should be able to be reached in several years. For example, travelling to
Alpha Centauri at half the speed of light should take a little over eight
years. However, due to time dilation and length contraction, the journey
would take significantly less time
• From the Earth’s point of view the clocks on the spacecraft are moving
slowly, so that less time passes on the spacecraft compared to the Earth.
From the point of view of the spacecraft occupants, the length of the
journey has contracted to a significantly shorter distance, which they
cover in less time. In the example above, the occupants record
approximately seven years passing before they arrive at their destination,
rather than eight years
• Accelerating to relativistic speeds would incur considerable energy costs,
due to the conversion of energy into mass