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(Most of the material presented in this chapter is taken from Thornton and Marion, Chap.

8, and Goldstein, Poole, and Safko Chap. 3)

In this chapter we will study the problem of two bodies moving under the influence of a

mutual central force.

Mass

We consider a system consisting of two point masses, m1 and m2 , when the only forces

are those due to an interaction potential U . We will assume that U is a function of the

distance between the two particles r = r = r2 ! r1 . Such a system has six degrees of

freedom. We could choose, for example, the three components of each of the two vectors,

r1 and r2 (see Figure 6-1). However, since the potential energy is solely a function of the

distance between the two particles, i.e., U = U ( r ) , it is to our advantage if we also

express the kinetic energy as function of r (that is, of r! ). Let’s first define the center of

mass R of the system as

( m1 + m2 ) R = m1r1 + m2 r2 . (6.1)

We also consider the distance between each particle and the center of mass

m1r1 + m2 r2 m2

r1 ! R = r1 ! =! r

m1 + m2 m1 + m2

(6.2)

m r + m2 r2 m1

r2 ! R = r2 ! 1 1 = r,

m1 + m2 m1 + m2

with r = r2 ! r1 .

119

We now calculate the kinetic energy of the system

1 1

T= m1r!12 + m2 r!2 2

2 2

(6.3)

1 ! + ( r!1 ! R

! ) $ + 1 m2 " R

! + ( r!2 ! R

! )$ ,

2 2

= m1 "# R % # %

2 2

2 2

1 "! m2 % 1 "! m1 %

T = m1 $ R ! r! ' + m2 $ R + r! '

2 # m1 + m2 & 2 # m1 + m2 &

1 "!2 %

2

m2 !+ ( m +

m1 $ R ! 2 r! iR 2

*) m + m -, !

r 2

'

2 $# m1 + m2 1 2 '&

(6.4)

1 "!2 % 2

+ m2 $ R +2

m1 ! + ( m1 + r! 2 '

r! iR

2 $# m1 + m2 *) m + m -,

1 2 '&

1 ! 2 + 1 m1m2 r! 2 .

= ( m1 + m2 ) R

2 2 m1 + m2

m1m2

µ= , (6.5)

m1 + m2

1 1 1

= + . (6.6)

µ m1 m2

1 1

T= ( m1 + m2 ) R! 2 + µ r! 2 . (6.7)

2 2

are now in a position to write down the Lagrangian for the central force problem

L = T !U

1 (6.8)

! 2 + 1 µ r! 2 ! U ( r ) ,

= ( m1 + m2 ) R

2 2

120

where the potential energy U ( r ) is yet undefined, except for the fact that it is solely a

function of the distance between the two particles. It is, however, seen from equation

(6.8) that the three components of the center of mass vector are cyclic. More precisely,

!L !L !L

= = = 0, (6.9)

!X !Y !Z

uniformly since the equations of motion for X, Y , and Z can be combined into the

following vector relation

( m1 + m2 ) R!! = 0. (6.10)

Since the center of mass vector (and its derivative) does not appear anywhere else in the

Lagrangian, we can drop the first term of the right hand side of equation (6.8) in all

subsequent analysis and only consider the remaining three degrees of freedom. The new

Lagrangian is therefore

1 2

L= µ r! ! U ( r ) . (6.11)

2

What is left of the Lagrangian is exactly what would be expected if we were dealing with

a problem of a single particle of mass µ subjected to a fixed central force. Thus, the

central force motion of two particles about their common center of mass is reducible to

an equivalent one-body problem.

Since we are dealing with a problem where the force involved is conservative, where the

potential is a function of the distance r of the reduced mass to the force center alone, the

system has spherical symmetry. From our discussion of Noether’s theorem in Chapter 4

(cf., section 4.7.3) we know that for such systems the angular momentum is conserved

(cf., section 4.7.5). That is,

L = r ! p = cste. (6.12)

From the definition of the angular momentum itself we know that L is always parallel to

vectors normal to the plane containing r and p . Furthermore, since in this case L is

fixed, it follows that the motion is at all time confined to the aforementioned plane. We

are, therefore, fully justified to use polar coordinates as the two remaining generalized

coordinates for this problem (i.e., we can set the third generalized coordinate, say, z to

be a constant since the motion is restricted to a plane). Since r = re r , we have

121

r! = re

! r + r!e r

(6.13)

! r + r!!e! .

= re

In the last equation we have used the following relation (with the usual transformation

between the ( r,! ) polar and the ( x, y ) Cartesian coordinates)

e r = cos (! ) e x + sin (! ) e y

(6.14)

e! = " sin (! ) e x + cos (! ) e y ,

!e r !e

e! r = r! + r "! = "!e" . (6.15)

!r !"

L=

1

2

( )

µ r!2 + r 2!! 2 " U ( r ) . (6.16)

generalized momentum is therefore conserved, that is

#L

p! " = µr 2!! = cste. (6.17)

!

#!

The momentum p! is a first integral of motion and is seen to equal the magnitude of the

angular momentum vector. It is customarily written as

As the particle (i.e., the reduced mass) moves along its trajectory through an infinitesimal

angular displacement d! within an amount of time dt , the area dA swept out by its

radius vector r is given by

1 2 1

dA = r d! = r 2!! dt. (6.19)

2 2

122

dA 1 2 !

= r!

dt 2

(6.20)

l

= = cste.

2µ

Thus, the areal velocity is constant in time. This result, discovered by Kepler for

planetary motion, is called Kepler’s Second Law. It is important to realize that the

conservation of the areal velocity is a general property of central force motion and is not

restricted to the inverse-square law force involved in planetary motion.

Another first integral of motion (the only one remaining) concerns the conservation of

energy. The conservation is insured because we are considering conservative systems.

Writing E for the energy we have

E = T +U

(6.21)

1

( )

= µ r!2 + r 2!! 2 + U ( r ) ,

2

1 2 1 l2

E= µr! + + U (r ) (6.22)

2 2 µr 2

We will use two different ways for the derivation of the equations of motion. The first

one consists of inverting equation (6.22) and express r! as a function of E, l, and U ( r )

such that

dr 2 l2

r! = =± " E ! U ( r ) $% ! 2 2 , (6.23)

dt µ# µ r

or alternatively

dr

dt = ± . (6.24)

2 l2

" E ! U ( )$% 2 2

r !

µ# µ r

Equation (6.24) can be solved, once the potential energy U ( r ) is defined, to yield the

solution t = t ( r ) , or after inversion r = r ( t ) . We are, however, also interested in

determining the shape of the path (or orbit) taken by the particle. That is, we would like

to evaluate r = r (! ) or ! = ! ( r ) . To do so we use the following relation

123

d! dt !!

d! = dr = dr. (6.25)

dt dr r!

! (r ) = ± )

(l r ) dr

2

+ cste. (6.26)

# l2 &

2µ % E " U (r ) "

$ 2 µr 2 ('

It is important to note that the integral given by equation (6.26) can be solved analytically

only for certain forms of potential energy. Most importantly, if the potential energy is of

the form U ( r ) ! r n , for n = 2, ! 1, and ! 2 the solution is expressible in terms of

circular functions.

The second method considered here for solving the equations of motion uses the

Lagrange equations

!L d !L

" =0

!r dt !!r

(6.27)

!L d !L

" = 0.

!# dt !#!

The second of these equations was already used to get equation (6.18) for the

conservation of angular momentum. Applying the first of equations (6.27) to the

Lagrangian (equation (6.16)) gives

#U

µ ( !!

r ! r"! 2 ) = ! $ F ( r ). (6.28)

#r

1

u! . (6.29)

r

du 1 dr 1 dr dt

=" 2 =" 2

d! r d! r dt d!

"1 (6.30)

r! # l & µ

=" 2 % 2( = " r,

!

r $ µr ' l

124

where we have used the fact that !! = l µr 2 , and for the second derivative

d 2u d # µ & dt d # µ & µ !!

r

= %$ " r!(' = %$ " r!(' = " !

d! 2

d! l d! dt l l!

(6.31)

µ2 2

= " 2 r !!

r.

l

l 2 2 d 2u

r=!

!! u , (6.32)

µ 2 d" 2

2

" l % l2

r!! 2 = r $ 2 ' = 2 u 3 . (6.33)

# µr & µ

d 2u µ 1 # 1&

+ u = " 2 2 F% (, (6.34)

d! 2

l u $ u'

d2 " 1% 1 µr 2

$ ' + = ( F (r ) (6.35)

d! 2 # r & r l2

Equation (6.35) can be used to find the force law that corresponds to a known orbit

r = r (! ) .

Examples

1. Let’s consider the case where the orbit is circular, i.e., r = cste . Then from equation

(6.35) we find that

µr 2

F ( r ) = cste. (6.36)

l2

125

1

F (r ) ! , (6.37)

r2

r = ke!" . (6.38)

2 $ '

= 2$

d! # r & d! # k & ' =(

k d!

e ( )

(6.39)

e()! ) 2

=)2

=

k r

l2 # " 2 1& 1

F (r ) = ! 2 %

+ ( ) 3. (6.40)

µr $ r r ' r

In equations (6.23) to (6.26) for dr, dt, and ! , respectively, appeared a common term

containing different energies (i.e., the total, potential, and rotational energies)

l2

E ! U (r ) ! . (6.41)

2 µr 2

l2 1

= µr 2!! 2 . (6.42)

2 µr 2

2

energy” U c , we can derive a conservative force from it. That is, if we set

l2

Uc ! , (6.43)

2 µr 2

126

"U c l2

Fc = ! = 3 = µr#! 2 . (6.44)

"r µr

The force defined by equation (6.44) is the so-called centrifugal force. It would,

therefore, be probably better to call U c is the centrifugal potential energy and to include

it with the potential energy U ( r ) to form the effective potential energy V ( r ) defined as

l2

V (r ) ! U (r ) + (6.45)

2 µr 2

we have

k

F (r ) = ! , (6.46)

r2

and

k

U ( r ) = ! " F ( r ) dr = ! . (6.47)

r

k l2

V (r ) = ! + . (6.48)

r 2 µr 2

It is to be noted that the centrifugal potential “reduces” the effect of the inverse-square-

law on the particle. This is because the inverse-square-law force is attractive while the

centrifugal force is repulsive. This can be seen in Figure 6-2.

It is also possible to guess some characteristics of potential orbits simply by comparing

the total energy with the effective potential energy at different values of r . From Figure

6-3 we can see that the motion of the particle is unbounded if the total energy ( E1 ) is

greater than the effective potential energy for r ! r1 when E1 = V ( r1 ) . This is because the

positions for which r < r1 are not allowed since the value under the square root in

equation (6.41) becomes negative, which from equation (6.23) would imply an imaginary

velocity. For the same reason, the orbit will be bounded with r2 ! r ! r4 for a total energy

E2 , where V ( r2 ) ! E2 ! V ( r4 ) . The turning points r2 and r4 are called the apsidal

distances. Finally, the orbit is circular with r = r3 when the total energy E3 is such that

E3 = V ( r3 ) .

127

Figure 6-2 - Curves for the centrifugal, effective, and gravitational potential energies.

Figure 6-3 – Depending on the total energy, different orbits are found.

128

6.5 Planetary Motion – Kepler’s Problem

The equation for a planetary orbit can be calculated from equation (6.26) when the

functional form for the gravitational potential is substituted for U ( r )

! (r ) = ± )

(l r ) dr

2

+ cste. (6.49)

# k l2 &

2µ % E + "

$ r 2 µr 2 ('

This equation can be integrated if we first make the change of variable u = 1 r , the

integral then becomes

l du

! (u ) = ± ) + cste

# l 2u 2 &

2 µ % E + ku "

$ 2 µ ('

(6.50)

du

= ±) + cste,

2µ

2 (

E + ku ) " u 2

l

the sign in front of the integral has not changed as it is assumed that the limits of the

integral were inverted when going from equation (6.49) to (6.50). We further transform

equation (6.50) by manipulating the denominator

du

! (u ) = ± ) + cste

µ 2 k 2 2µE # µk &

2

+ 2 " %u " 2 (

l 4

l $ l '

du

= ±) + cste (6.51)

2

µk # 2El 2 & # ul 2 &

% 1 + 2 (

"% " 1(

l 2

$ µk ' $ µk '

* du

=±

+ ) + cste,

# * u " 1&

2

1" %

$ + ('

with

l2 2El 2

!" and # " 1 + . (6.52)

µk µk 2

129

Now, to find the solution to the integral of equation (6.51), let’s consider a function f ( u )

such that

df d"

= ! sin (" ) , (6.54)

du du

or

d! 1 df

="

du sin (! ) du

1 df

=" (6.55)

1 " cos 2 (! ) du

1 df

=" .

1 " f du2

!u " 1

f (u ) = , (6.56)

#

we find that

% # u " 1(

!! ( u ) = cos "1 ' + +, (6.57)

& $ *)

!

= 1 + " cos (# + $ ) , (6.58)

r

we finally have

!

= 1 + " cos (# ) (6.59)

r

with

130

l2 2El 2

!" and # " 1 + . (6.60)

µk µk 2

Equation (6.59) is that of a conic section with one focus at the origin. The quantities

! and 2" are called the eccentricity and the latus rectum of the orbit, respectively. The

minimum value of r (when ! = 0 ) is called the pericenter, and the maximum value for

the radius is the apocenter. The turning points are apsides. The corresponding terms for

motion about the sun are perihelion and aphelion, and for motion about the earth,

perigee and apogee.

As was stated when discussing the results shown in Figure 6-3, the energy of the orbit

will determine its shape. For example, we found that the radius of the orbit is constant

when E = Vmin . We see from, equation (6.60) that this also implies that the eccentricity is

zero (i.e., ! = 0 ). In fact, the value of the eccentricity is used to classify the orbits

according to different conic sections (see Figure 6-4):

! =1 E=0 Parabola

0 < ! <1 Vmin < E < 0 Ellipse

!=0 E = Vmin Circle

For planetary motion, we can determine the length of the major and minor axes

(designated by 2a and 2b ) using equations (6.59) and (6.60). For the major axis we have

! !

2a = rmin + rmax = +

1+ " 1# "

(6.61)

2! k

= = .

1# " 2

E

For the minor axis, we start by defining rb and ! b as the radius and angle where

b = rb sin (! b ) . (6.62)

Accordingly we have

a ! rmin = & ! ) = . (6.64)

2 %1 ! # 1 + # ( 1 ! # 2

131

Figure 6-4 – The shape of orbits as a function of the eccentricity.

But from equation (6.59) we also have

rb cos (! b ) = =$ , (6.65)

1 + # cos (! b ) 1$ #2

or

and

!

rb = . (6.67)

1" #2

Inserting equations (6.66) and (6.67) into equation (6.62) we finally get

! l

b= = , (6.68)

1" # 2

2µ E

or

b = ! a. (6.69)

The period of the orbit can be evaluated using equation (6.20) for the areal velocity

2µ

dt = dA. (6.70)

l

132

Since the entire area enclosed by the ellipse will be swept during the duration of a period

! , we have

! 2µ A

" 0

dt =

l "0

dA, (6.71)

or

2µ 2µ

!= A= " ab, (6.72)

l l

where we have the fact that the area of an ellipse is given by ! ab . Now, substituting the

first of equations (6.60) and equation (6.69) in equation (6.72) we get

4" 2 µ 3

!2 = a (6.73)

k

In the case of the motion of a solar system planet about the Sun we have

k = Gm p ms , (6.74)

where G, m p , and ms are the universal gravitational constant, the mass of the planet, and

the mass of the Sun, respectively. We therefore get

4" 2 m p ms 3

! =

2

a

Gm p ms m p + ms

4" 2

= a3 (6.75)

(

G m p + ms )

4" 2 a 3

! ,

Gms

since ms ! m p . We find that the square of the period is proportional to the semi-major

axis to the third, with the same proportionality constant for every planet. This

(approximate) result is known as Kepler’s Third Law. We end by summarizing Kepler’s

Laws

I. Planets move in elliptical orbits about the Sun with the Sun at one focus.

II. The area per unit time swept out by a radius vector from the Sun to a planet is

constant.

III. The square of a planet’s period is proportional to the cube of the major axis of the

planet’s orbit.

133

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