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 Solar  System
AST  103  -­‐  Fall  2010

Lecture 06 - Gravity, Einstein and Relativity

Newton’s Second Law

a= or F = ma
Newton’s version of Kepler’s Third Law:

4 π 2
p =
a 3

G ( M1 + M 2 )
Since the mass of the Sun is so much greater
than the planets, we can simplify the equation:

4 π 2
p ≈
a 3

GM Sun
We can use observations of planetary motion
and the above equation to measure the mass of
the Sun.
pEarth = 1 year = 3.156 × 10 seconds

aEarth = 1 AU = 1.496 × 10 meters


−11 −1 −2
G = 6.67 × 10 3
m kg s

4π a 2 3
M Sun ≈ Earth
≈ 1.99 × 10 kg

G p Earth
1. Examples using the Law of Universal Gravitation
2. Orbits and the Center of Mass

The Theory of Relativity

3.The Principle of Equivalence
4. Curved Space
5. Tests of Relativity
6. The Correspondence Principle
Motion in a Circle
• Motion of an object in a circle is an example of
acceleration causing a change in direction.

• Centripetal, or “center-seeking” force is the force

directed to the center of the curve along which an
object is moving.

of motion
Examples using the Law of Universal Gravitation

1. Measuring the acceleration of the Moon

a= v = 1020 m/s
r a = 0.00027 m/s2

= 9.8 m/s2
Weight on different planets

1. If we were on a planet with twice the mass

of the earth, how would our weight be

2. What if we were on a planet with the

same mass as the Earth, but double the

3. What if we were on a planet with twice

the radius and four times the mass as the
Orbits and the Center of Mass

• Newton’s Law of Gravity tells us that masses exert

a force on each other...

• so one object does not orbit another “stationary”


• Instead, both objects orbit around a common point

called the center of mass.

• Therefore the Moon does not orbit the Earth.

Instead, the Earth and Moon orbit a common
center of Mass.
Beyond Newton
Newton’s theory of gravity was the first to
successfully unite the motion of objects on Earth an
in space.

His ideas fit data, made predictions that can be

checked, and combined with other laws into a simple
unified theory we call “Newtonian Mechanics”.

It was able to explain more about the motion of

objects than Kepler’s laws because it was a more
fundamental theory.
The General Theory of Relativity

• There are some observations that Newton’s Laws

cannot explain.

• One example is that the inertial mass and

gravitational mass appear to be identical quantities.

• This led Albert Einstein to develop his general

theory of relativity in the early 20th century.
The Principle of Equivalence
The Principle of Equivalence
The principle of equivalence

“There is no experiment that can be done which

can distinguish between motion due to acceleration
and an equivalent motion due to gravity.”

"we [...] assume the complete physical equivalence of

a gravitational field and a corresponding acceleration
of the reference system." (Einstein 1907)

An observer in a windowless room cannot distinguish

between being on the surface of the Earth, and being
in a spaceship in deep space accelerating at 9.8m/s2).
Curved Space
Mass curves space, which distorts the motion of objects.

C: Circular Orbit
E: Elliptical Orbit
U: Unbound Orbit
• For Einstein, as objects move they follow the
curvature of space created by the presence of

• “Matter tells space how to curve, and space

curvature tells matter how to move.”

• This view differs from Newton’s attractive

gravitational force between objects.

• What we perceive as the force of gravity is

instead a result of our being unable to follow a
path through curved space, because of the
mechanical resistance of the Earth.
Testing the theory of relativity
• The many tests of the theory of relativity shows that it provides
a better description of gravity than Newton’s theory.

Test 1

The general theory predicts that light will curve in

the presence of a massive object.
This prediction, made in 1915, was first confirmed
during a solar eclipse in 1919.

1. 2.

Test 2: The Orbit of Mercury

The orbit of Mercury precesses, which means

its orientation in space changes over time.
• The total precession is 574 arcseconds per century.
• 531 arcseconds explained by the influence of the
other planets, particularly Venus and Jupiter.
• 43 arcseconds was unexplained by Newton’s theory
of gravity.

• One hypothesis predicted the presence of

another planet closer to the Sun called Vulcan,
which perturbed Mercury’s orbit.

• This planet was never found.

• Einstein applied his theory of relativity to the problem.
• The 43 arcseconds of Mercury’s precession could be
explained by curvature of space caused by the Sun.

Describing this discovery, Einstein wrote:

“...for a few days I was beside myself with joyous
Test 3: Time Dilation

• Synchronize two highly accurate clocks

• Fly one around the Earth and compare them again
There are two opposing effects of relativity that
cause the clocks to no longer be synchronized

1. The clock on the plane ran slower because it

travelled faster than the one left on the ground.

2. But the clock on the plane also ran faster, because

it was in a weaker gravitational field.

The effect of altitude was stronger than that of

speed, so the clock on the plane was faster
compared to the one left on the ground.
Test 4: Gravitational Waves

• The theory of relativity predicts that large moving

masses will cause ripples in space called gravitational

• The observation of two massive stars orbiting each

other apeared to confirm this theory.

• The orbits of the stars decayed by the amount

predicted by the loss of energy as gravitational
The Correspondence Principle

• The predictions of a new theory must agree with the

theory it replaces in cases where the previous theory
has been found to be correct.

• The general theory of relativity agrees with

Newtonian mechanics where the old theory provided
correct results.

• All test of Einstein’s relativity so far have confirmed

it, but Newton’s theory is still often used for
1. Examples using the Law of Universal Gravitation
2. Orbits and the Center of Mass

The Theory of Relativity

3.The Principle of Equivalence
4. Curved Space
5. Tests of Relativity
6. The Correspondence Principle