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Problem set 1 challenge problem solution

August 30, 2013


1 Setting up the problem: the energy of the orbiting body
The energy of the orbiting body is given by the sum of its kinetic energy and the potential energy
E =
1
2
mv
2
+ U(r)
Since the potential energy is spherically symmetric (only depends on r), it is best to write the
velocity in spherical coordinates:
v
2
=
_
dx
dt
_
2
= r
2
+ r
2

2
+ r
2
sin
2

2
where we are using a dot to denote a time derivative, e.g. r = dr/dt. Since orbits are in a plane,
there is no velocity in the direction so

= 0. Therefore the energy is given by
E =
1
2
m r
2
+
p
2

2mr
2
+ U(r)
where I have dened p

= mr
2

which is the angular momentum of the orbiting body. Since
there are no external forces, the energy of the orbiting body is conserved. Furthermore, since the
gravitational force does not depend on , the angular momentum is conserved. Therefore, for a
given orbit, E and p

are constant.
Since angular momentum is conserved, the angular kinetic energy term p
2

/2mr
2
looks like a
potential energy term that depends on the radius. It is common to dene an eective potential
V (r) which is a sum of the angular kinetic energy and normal potential energy:
V (r)
p
2

2mr
2
+ U(r)
A plot of this eective potential is shown in gure 1 for U(r) = k/r. It is very useful in visualizing
what is happening for orbits. A bounded orbitan orbit which sticks to the sunis trapped in
the potential well. If the energy of the planet is at the minimum of the potential well, E = V
min
,
then the distance does not change (it occurs at a single value of r) and the orbit is circular. For
energies V
min
< E < 0 the distance from the sun changes during the orbit reaching a maximum
and minimum distance. These orbits are elliptical.
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Basic calculus tells us that at the maximum
and minimum values of the distance, r
far
and r
close
, the derivative of the distance vanishes: r = 0.
Thus at these points E = V and this is indicated in the gure.
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To prove the orbits are ellipses, we would need to nd r as a function of . This can be done from the energy
equation, which is a dierential equation for r since it involves time derivatives of r. We wont bother with that in
these notesthe solution can be found in most mechanics textbooks or with some googling. Instead we will take it
as a given that these are actually elliptical orbits.
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Figure 1: Eective potential for Newtons gravitational potential. Bounded orbits exist for E < 0.
The minimum energy at E = V
min
is a circular orbit. For energies V
min
< E < 0 the orbit is
elliptical. For E 0 the orbit is unboundedthese are objects that come in from r = , bend
around the Sun and then y back out towards r = .
2 Part (a): Closest and furthest distances for the modied poten-
tial
In this problem we explore orbits for a modied gravitational potential,
U
Y
(r) = k
e
r/a
r
.
This type of potential is commonly known as a Yukawa potential, and we will refer to it as such.
Newtons potential U = k/r is recovered by taking a . It turns out that as long as a is large
enough, this potential also admits bounded orbits.
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This is easiest to see by plotting the eective
potential, V

(r) = p
2

/2mr
2
+ U
Y
(r), as shown in gure 2.
One last notational step before I solve the problem. I divide the entire energy equation by k
and dene

E E/k and
p
2

mk
b:
E
k
=
m
2k
r
2
+
p
2

2mkr
2

1
r

E =
m
2k
r
2
+
b
2r
2

1
r
Note that

E has dimensions of inverse length, and b has dimensions of length. The characteristic
size of

E will be R
1
while b R where R 1.5 10
11
m is median distance of the orbit.
2
Note though that while the orbits are bounded, meaning they distance always stays between a max and min
value, they are not necessarily exact ellipses. However, as long as a is large compared to the distances in the orbit,
they are very nearly elliptical orbits. We will see why later in the problem.
2
Figure 2: Eective potential for Newtons gravitational potential (blue) and the Yukawa potential
(magenta). The Yukawa potential also has bounded orbits for large enough a. From the plot, it is
easy to see that if the energy stays the same, the closest and furthest distances of the orbit shift
slightly.
To nd the new closest and furthest points in the Yukawa potential, I rst need to nd the
energy and angular momentum of the orbit. These are xed by knowing the closest and furthest
distances in Newtons potential, r
c
= 1.4 10
11
m and r
f
= 1.6 10
11
m. As described in the
previous section and easily seen in the gures, at the closest and furthest distances we have E = V
e
.
Thus we have

E =
b
2r
2
c

1
r
c

E =
b
2r
2
f

1
r
f
We have two equations to solve for the two unknowns

E and b. I nd

E =
1
r
c
+ r
f
=
10
3
10
12
m
1
b = 2
r
c
r
f
r
c
+ r
f
= 1.493 10
11
m
We can now nd the closest and furthest distances in the Yukawa potential, r

c
and r

f
, for the
same

E and b by setting

E = V
Y
(r):

E =
b
2r

2
c

e
r

c
/a
r

E =
b
2r

2
f

e
r

f
/a
r

f
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Using a computer, we can numerically solve for r

c
and r

f
. I nd
r

f
= 1.597 10
11
m r

c
= 1.402 10
11
m
Note that an easier way to solve this takes advantage of that fact that a 10
15
m is much larger
than any of the other length scales in the problem. Because of this we can Taylor expand the
exponential
e
r/a
1
r
a
+O(r/a)
2

e
r/a
r

1
r
+
1
a
Then the condition that

E = V
Y
takes the form:

E =
b
2r
2

1
r
+
1
a
This is a quadratic equation for r:
0 =
_

E
1
a
_
r
2
+ r
b
2
whose solutions are
r =
1
2
_

E
1
a
_
_
1

1 + 2
_

E
1
a
_
b
_
Plugging in

E, b, and a we get the same r

c
and r

f
found numerically. The exact and approximate
answer only dier at the fth decimal place, e.g. the exact r

f
= 1.5974110
11
while the approximate
solution gives r

f
= 1.59744 10
11
. Its not surprising that the dier at the at the fth decimal
place since r
f
/a 10
4
, so at the fth decimal place we need to keep beyond rst order in r/a.
3 Eccentricities of the orbits
As stated in the problem, an elliptical orbit is characterized by
r =
b
1 + e cos
where e is the eccentricity of the orbit and takes values 0 e < 1 for bounded orbits. The closest
and furthest distances occur at = 0 and = , respectively:
r
c
=
b
1 + e
r
f
=
b
1 e
Solving for b and e in terms of r
c
and r
f
e =
r
f
r
c
r
f
+ r
c
b = 2
r
f
r
c
r
f
+ r
c
(now it is clear that this is the same b dened earlier).
For the Newtonian potential I nd
e = 0.0667
while for the Yukawa potential, I nd
e

= 0.0652
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4 Part (c): approximate formula for the eccentricity
Recall the energy of the orbiting body is given by
E =
1
2
m r
2
+ V
e
(r) =
1
2
m r
2
+
p
2

2mr
2
k
e
r/a
r
or in our notation when we divide by k

E =
m
2k
r
2
+
b
2r
2

e
r/a
r
The characteristic length scale of the problem is set by b: in our problem b = 1.49 10
11
m and
all length scales were around this value. This means r b during the orbit. When a b, the
exponential is nearly 1 at points along the orbit. It makes sense then to Taylor expand the exponent
for small r/a. Using e
x
1 x +O(x
2
) we have:

E
m
2k
r
2
+
b
2r
2

1
r
+
1
a
We see that for large a, the dominant change from the Newtonian potential is to add a constant to
the potential energy. In other words, it simply shifts the eective potential up. This is what you
see in gure 2.
If we move the constant to the other side we have

E
1
a


E

=
m
2k
r
2
+
b
2r
2

1
r

=
m
2k
r
2
+ V
e,N
Thus the problem looks exactly like the Newtonian problem with a slightly smaller energy than
before,

E

=

E
1
a
.
Below I will explain how we can get the eccentricity for the orbit in terms of the energy and
angular moment. For the moment, let me tell it to you:
e =
_
1 + 2b

E
For large a, as we saw above, the problem looks the same as the Newtonian one with a dierent
energy

E

. Therefore the eccentricity for the Yukawa potential for large a is the same as above
with

E replaced by

E

:
e

_
1 + 2b

E

1 + 2b
_

E
1
a
_
=
_
e
2

2b
a
Doing a little more math
e

= e
_
1
2b
ae
2
e
_
1
b
ae
2
_
= e
b
ae
5
where in the second step we did a Taylor expansion which is justied as long as 2b/ae
2
1, which
it is in our case. Therefore the change in eccentricity between the Yukawa and Newton potentials
is
e e

e
b
ae
= 0.00149
If you subtract the answers from the previous section, I nd e

e = 0.00151. Again, it is not


surprising that the dierence between these two enters at the fth decimal place, since b/a 10
4
.
Finally, I explain where the eccentricity formula e =
_
1 + 2

Eb comes from. If you read a textbook
or look online, you will see that how it comes about when integrating to nd as a function of r.
I will not take that approach since you can read about it and because we can nd it using only the
information on r
c
and r
f
.
In the part (a) section of this solution, we found

E and b in terms of r
c
and r
f
:

E =
1
r
f
+ r
c
b = 2
r
f
r
c
r
f
+ r
c
We also know that the formula for an ellipse is given by
r =
b
1 + e cos
and that the closest and furthest points occur at = 0 and = :
r
c
=
b
1 + e
r
f
=
b
1 e
Plugging these into

E:

E =
1
b
1e
+
b
1+e
=
1
b
(1e)(1+e)
[(1 + e) + (1 e)]
=
1 e
2
2b
e
2
= 1 + 2b

E
which is the promised eccentricity formula.
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