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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.

2: Out into Space

Module 5.1.2
Out into Space
5.1.2.B Gravitational Fields

Topic Notes
Name:__________

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

Important resources for this module:


All Prezi presentations, booklets, homeworks and
practical sheets are all available on the departmental
website:
www.aquinasphysics.com/512-out-
into-space.html

www.alevelphysicsonline.com/gravitational-fields

Excellent video tutorials made by an A level physics teacher for A level physics students.
If you need to go over any concepts again, this is the first place that you should look.
Login Username: physics@aquinas.ac.uk Password: 1234

Free access to the course textbook (via


the departmental website). Follow the
instructions on the website for how to log
in.

www.aquinasphysics.com/kerboodle.html

Challenging questions from GCSE level to Undergraduate physics problems.


If you are hoping for a B, A or A* you must be visiting this site and regularly
practicing the problems. They also run excellent workshops. Look out for these!!

isaacphysics.org/

Multiple-choice practice revision


questions on your phone. Revise on the
bus on the way in to college!!

www.gojimo.com/

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

Studentship checklist
Tick the boxes when you have completed each of the tasks to do with this topic:

Have you… 
Completed the notes in this booklet so that all important details are recorded?

Answered all the questions in the main part of this booklet, practising the key skills needed

Watched the videos linked to in each section?

Made further notes from Prezis / videos / other sources in the spaces provided throughout the booklet

Answered all the mastery questions at the back of this booklet?

Completed and marked the homework booklet(s) associated with this topic?
Watched the video explaining all the questions on the homework(s) on this topic and taken detailed notes
of any corrections?
Found extra questions related to this topic to answer (e.g. on IsaacPhysics ; physicsandmathstutor.com ; the
stretch & challenge questions at the front of each physics lab.)?
Made revision resources for this topic (mind-maps / flashcards etc.)?

Found some stretch & challenge questions to practice at the front of the physics lab?
Which are the trickiest parts of this topic that you will focus your revision on when it comes to exam time?

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

Two-Year Course Overview


w.b. Lower 6 Upper 6
Homework Pack Homework Pack
09-Sep Induction, Maths Skills & Vectors September Mock
16-Sep 4.2.A 5.1.3.B
5.1.3 Astrophysics
23-Sep 4.2.B
30-Sep 4.2 Motion & Mechanics 4.2.C 5.1.2.A
5.1.2 Circular Motion & Gravitational
07-Oct
Fields
14-Oct 4.2.D 5.1.2.B
October Half Term October Half Term
28-Oct 4.2.E 6.1.2.A
6.1.2 Electric & Magnetic Fields ;
04-Nov 4.2 Motion & Mechanics 4.2.F 6.1.2.B
Particle Accelerators
11-Nov 4.2.G 6.1.2.C
18-Nov 3.2.A 6.2.1.A
25-Nov 3.2.B 6.2.1 Particle Physics 6.2.1.B
3.2 Materials
02-Dec 3.2.C 6.2.1.C
09-Dec 5.2.1.A
5.2.1 Heat Energy & Ideal Gases
16-Dec 3.1.2 Electricity 3.1.2.A 5.2.1.B

Christmas Holidays Christmas Holidays

06-Jan 3.1.2.B 5.2.2 Boltzmann Factor 5.2.1.


13-Jan 3.1.2.C 5.1.1.A
3.1.2 Electricity 5.1.1 Modelling (Radioactivity,
20-Jan 3.1.2.D 5.1.1.B
Capacitors & Oscillations)
27-Jan 3.1.2.E
03-Feb Mock Exam 3.1.2.E Mock Exam
10-Feb 4.1 Waves 4.1.A 5.1.1 Modelling 5.1.1.C
February Half Term February Half Term
24-Feb 4.1.B 6.1.1.A
02-Mar 4.1.C 6.1.1. Electromagnetism 6.1.1.B
4.1 Waves
09-Mar 4.1.D 6.1.1.C
16-Mar 4.1.E 6.2.2.A
23-Mar 6.2.2. Nuclear Physics 6.2.2.B
4.1 Quantum Physics
30-Mar 4.1.F 6.2.2.C

Easter Holidays Easter Holidays

20-Apr Revision & Mock Exam


4.1 Quantum Physics
27-Apr 4.1.G Revision
04-May 3.1.1.A Mock Exam
11-May 3.1.1 Imaging & Signalling Revision
18-May 3.1.1.B Exams Start
May Half Term May Half Term
01-Jun 3.1.1.C
3.1.1 Imaging & Signalling
08-Jun 3.1.1.D
15-Jun 5.1.3 Astrophysics 5.1.3.A
22-Jun End of Year Exam
29-Jul Work Experience Week
06-Jul 5.1.3 Astrophysics
Summer Holidays Summer Holidays

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

Table of Contents
Studentship checklist ................................................................................................................................................. - 3 -
Learning Objectives ................................................................................................................................................... - 6 -
1. Newton’s Law of Gravitation ............................................................................................................................ - 8 -
Basic Terms & Definitions ...................................................................................................................................... - 8 -
The Law of Gravitation ............................................................................................................................................ - 9 -
Some questions on Newton’s Law of Gravitation ............................................................................................. - 10 -
2. Orbiting bodies & Kepler’s Laws ................................................................................................................... - 12 -
Kepler’s three laws ................................................................................................................................................ - 12 -
Some quick questions on Kepler’s Third Law ................................................................................................... - 12 -
Deriving Kepler’s Third Law from Newton’s Law of Gravitation ........................................................................ - 13 -
Some more questions on Kepler’s third law ...................................................................................................... - 13 -
Space for your own notes ................................................................................................................................... - 15 -
3. Gravitational field strength, g ......................................................................................................................... - 16 -
Graphs of field strength against distance ............................................................................................................... - 16 -
Using the graph of field strength against distance to find the escape velocity .................................................. - 17 -
4. Gravitational Potential Vg & Gravitational Potential Energy Eg ................................................................ - 19 -
Gravitational Potential & Potential Energy in Uniform Gravitational Fields ........................................................ - 19 -
Gravitational Potential & Gravitational Potential Energy changes in non-uniform fields..................................... - 20 -
Deriving the formula for gravitational potential Vg at a point in a field ................................................................ - 21 -
An example question.......................................................................................................................................... - 22 -
Graphs of potential Vg against distance r ............................................................................................................... - 22 -
An example question.......................................................................................................................................... - 23 -
Gravitational force, field strength, potential and potential energy: a summary ..................................................... - 24 -
Equipotentials & energy transfers .......................................................................................................................... - 25 -
An example exam question on gravitational fields & energy transfers ................................................................. - 28 -
5. Some applications of the theory ...................................................................................................................... - 30 -
Satellites ................................................................................................................................................................. - 30 -
Polar orbiting ..................................................................................................................................................... - 30 -
Geostationary ..................................................................................................................................................... - 30 -
Detecting exoplanets .............................................................................................................................................. - 31 -
Binary star systems ................................................................................................................................................ - 32 -
6. Mastery Questions............................................................................................................................................ - 34 -
Isaac Physics F5: Newtonian Gravity ................................................................................................................ - 34 -
Isaac Physics F6: Gravity & Orbits .................................................................................................................... - 39 -
Space for your own notes......................................................................................................................................... - 40 -

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

Learning Objectives
5.1.2.
(a) Describe and explain
(i) changes of gravitational and kinetic energy.

(ii) motion in a uniform gravitational fields

(iii) the gravitational field and potential of a point mass

(v) motion in a horizontal circle and in a circular gravitational orbit.


(b) Make appropriate use of the terms
Force, kinetic and potential energy, gravitational field, gravitational potential,
(i)
equipotential surface
(b) By sketching and interpreting
graphs showing gravitational potential as the area under a graph of gravitational field
(ii) against distance, graphs showing changes in gravitational potential energy as area under a
graph of gravitational force against distance between two distance values

graphs showing force as related to the tangent of the graph of gravitational potential energy
(iii) versus distance, graphs showing field strength as related to the tangent of a graph of
gravitational potential versus distance

(iv) diagrams of gravitational fields and the corresponding equipotential surfaces


(c) Make calculations and estimates involving:
(i) uniform gravitational field: gravitational potential energy change ∆𝐸𝑔𝑟𝑎𝑣. = 𝑚𝑔∆ℎ

Energy exchange, work done ∆𝐸 = 𝐹 ∆𝑠 ; no work done when the force is perpendicular to
(ii)
the displacement, resulting in no work being done when moving along equipotentials

𝐺𝑀𝑚 𝐹𝑔 𝐺𝑀
(iv) The radial components: 𝐹𝑔 = − ; 𝑔= = −
𝑟2 𝑚 𝑟2

𝐺𝑀𝑚
(v) gravitational potential energy 𝐸𝑔𝑟𝑎𝑣 = − 𝑟

𝐸𝑔𝑟𝑎𝑣 𝐺𝑀
(vi) gravitational potential 𝑉𝑔𝑟𝑎𝑣 = 𝑚
=− 𝑟

Definitions / explanations you are expected to learn are given


stippled boxes for you to write them in

Equations you are expected to be able to use are bold-framed.

Online learning checks and assignments are linked to in double


lined boxes

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

5.1.2 Gravitational fields


Prezi 5.1.2.B These notes coordinate with the Prezi 5.1.2.B on the departmental website
Gravitational Fields & pages 268-285 (ish) in the course textbook.
goo.gl/VPfQBq

A prominent example of objects that undergo circular motion is any object orbiting a body under the action of gravity.
This could include the satellites that orbit planets, or planets orbiting stars, or indeed stars as the circle as part of the
wider galaxy – all these motions can be explained by Sir Isaac Newton’s Law of Gravitation.
The idea of fields in physics is also one that we will be looking at in several different contexts, so this unit of gravitational
fields provides a window into some of the physics that we will be covering in the second part of the year.
We will start by considering the forces acting between two masses acting under the force of gravity, and then expand
our thoughts to the energy transfers that take place when objects move in a gravitational field.
However, let’s start by ensuring that we are secure with a few key terms and definitions fundamental to understanding
the topic.

1. Newton’s Law of Gravitation


Basic Terms & Definitions
There are a series of exceptionally useful videos made by www.alevelphysicsonline.com on this topic.
Log in using the details on the inside front cover of this booklet following the QR code left or typing
goo.gl/jvs2GR into your web browser.
The first video titled Gravitational Fields gives a great overview of the topic and the key terms that
follow.

Define the following key terms:


Explain what is meant when we talk about FIELDS in physics.

Explain what is meant by a GRAVITATIONAL FIELD.

Give a definition for the term GRAVITATIONAL FIELD STRENGTH, g and state its units

UNITS: ……… or ….…

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

State an equation giving the gravitational field strength, g, in terms of the *equation given on p.7 in the formula booklet
force F acting on a mass m

g=
The Law of Gravitation
Follow the QR code left (also at goo.gl/jvs2GR) to view the video from www.alevelphysicsonline.com on
the Law of Gravitation. Log in using the details on the inside front cover of this booklet, and scroll to the
second video down the list.

We will return to the idea of gravitational field strength shortly. First, we will consider the different factor affecting
the size of the attractive force between two objects with mass, as described by Newton’s Law of Gravitation.
(1) State Newton’s Law of Gravitation in words.

*equation given on p.7 in the formula booklet

(2) Give the equation stated by Newton’s Law


of gravitation, giving the attractive force F

F=
acting between two objects, one with mass
M and the other with mass m, separated by
a distance r.

(3) The constant written in the equation above is known as the GRAVITATIONAL FORCE CONSTANT, G. State
its value and the units in the space below:

G= Units: ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

(4) Explain the importance of the minus sign in the equation above.

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

Some questions on Newton’s Law of Gravitation

In the following questions take the mass of the Earth to be 6.0×1024 kg and its radius to be 6.4×106 m.
(1) (a) Calculate the force due to gravity acting between two objects each of mass 70 kg, placed 0.8 m apart.

F = ………………………… N
(b) Calculate the force due to gravity that the Earth exerts on a mass of 70 kg
(i) At the Earth’s surface

F = ………………………… N
(ii) At a height of 100 km above the ground

F = ………………………… N
(iii) At a height of 10000 km above the ground

F = ………………………… N

(c) Calculate the force due to gravity which the Sun (mass = 2.0×1030 kg) exerts on the Earth. One Astronomical
Unit is 1.5×1011 m.

F = ………………………… N

(2) (a) Add field lines to the diagram below, showing the Earth’s gravitational field.

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

(c) State what the DIRECTIONS of the arrows indicate

(d) What does the SPACING between the field lines tell us about?

(3) A satellite of mass 200 kg orbits the earth at 1000 km from the Earth’s surface in a circular orbit.
(a) Calculate the force with which the Earth attracts the satellite.

F = ………………………… N

(b) Use equations for circular motion to calculate the velocity of the satellite. Show full working

v = ……………………… m s-1

(c) Hence calculate the kinetic energy of the satellite.

Ek = ……………………… J

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

2. Orbiting bodies & Kepler’s Laws


Follow the QR code left (also at goo.gl/jvs2GR) to view the video from www.alevelphysicsonline.com
titled Kepler’s Three Laws and Derivation showing why T2 is proportional to r3 for more information
on the following concepts. Log in using the details on the inside front cover of this booklet, and scroll to
the fourth and fifth videos on the list (username: physics@aquinas.ac.uk ; password: 1234)

Kepler’s three laws


In the space below, state Kepler’s three laws orbiting bodies. You may wish to annotate the diagram to help explain
some of these concepts:

Kepler’s First Law:

Kepler’s Second Law:

Kepler’s Third Law:

Some quick questions on Kepler’s Third Law

The Earth has a radius of orbit of 1.5×1011 m and a period of orbit of 1 year. Use Kepler’s third law to find the time
period of orbit (in Earth years) for:
(a) Mercury (orbital radius = 5.8×1010 m)

period of orbit = ……………………… years


(b) Saturn (orbital radius = 1.4×1012 m)

period of orbit = ……………………… years

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

Deriving Kepler’s Third Law from Newton’s Law of Gravitation


Kepler’s Third Law describes an EMPIRICAL RELATIONSHIP. In 1619 Johannes Kepler spotted the mathematical
correlation between orbital radius and time period, based on the astronomical observations of his mentor Tycho Brahe.
However, the underlying reason as to why orbiting objects follow this relationship wasn’t established until sixty or so
years later, when Sir Isaac Newton published his Law of Gravitation in his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia
Mathematica in 1687.
The derivation of Kepler’s Third Law from (1) Newton’s Law of Gravitation and (2) the equation for a centripetal force
is a FUNDAMENTAL DERIVATION that you MUST be able to do.
Derive Kepler’s Third Law, stating all the terms that make up the constant linking orbital radius r and time period T in
the space below. The first line has been completed for you.

𝑮𝑴𝒎 𝒎 𝒗𝟐
𝑭 = (−) =
𝒓𝟐 𝒓

Some more questions on Kepler’s third law

For each of the following, use the time period T or orbit to find (a) the height of orbit above the earth’s surface; (b)
the velocity at which the object moves through space ; and (c) the centripetal acceleration the object must undergo to
remain in its orbit. (mass of the Earth = 6.0 × 1024 kg ; Earth radius = 6400 km)
(1) The International Space Station (orbit time = 93 mins)
(a) height of orbit above Earth’s surface

height = …………………………….. km

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

(b) orbital velocity

orbital velocity = …………………… m s-1


(c) centripetal acceleration

acceleration =…………………… m s-2


(2) A geostationary satellite
(a) height of orbit above Earth’s surface

height = …………………………….. km
(b) orbital velocity

orbital velocity = …………………… m s-1


(c) centripetal acceleration

acceleration =…………………… m s-2


(3) The moon
(a) height of orbit above Earth’s surface

height = …………………………….. km

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

(b) orbital velocity

orbital velocity = …………………… m s-1


(c) centripetal acceleration

acceleration =…………………… m s-2

Space for your own notes

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……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

3. Gravitational field strength, g


Follow the QR code left (also at goo.gl/jvs2GR) to view the video from www.alevelphysicsonline.com on
Gravitational Field Strength and Escape Velocity for more information on the following concepts. Log
in using the following details, and scroll to the third video
(username: physics@aquinas.ac.uk ; password: 1234)

We have already defined what is meant by the term GRAVITATIONAL FIELD STRENGTH, g and given its equation
in terms of the force F acting on a mass m placed in the gravitational field (1).
We also know an equation stating the size of the force F acting on an object (with mass m) when placed a distance r
away in the gravitational field of a second mass M from Newton’s Law of Gravitation (2).
State these two formulae below and combine them to give the equation for the gravitational field strength g at a point a
distance r from the centre of a (spherical) object with a mass M.
*equation NOT given in the formula booklet

(1) g =

(2) F= g=
Graphs of field strength against distance
On the axes below, sketch graphs showing how the gravitational field strength g varies with distance for:
(a) A point mass
(b) The Earth

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

The graph of how gravitational field strength g varies with distance r from the centre of the Earth on the facing page
can be used to find the ESCAPE VELOCITY of an object from a planet’s surface.
Explain what is meant by the term ESCAPE VELOCITY.

If an object is at or above the escape velocity for the planet, what do you know about its kinetic energy relative to the
gravitational potential energy at the planet’s surface?

Using the graph of field strength against distance to find the escape velocity

We can use the graph by considering the energy transfers an object would undergo as it flew from the planet’s surface
and out into the far reaches of outer space.
Complete the following:

 As a fast-moving object flies vertically upwards its …………………… ………………….. will be


converted into ……………………. …………………… ……………….
 This is because to get farther from the planet’s surface ……………… must be done against
the planet’s …………………. ………………….
 The work done against the gravitational field will be equal to the object’s gain in
………….……….. ………………. ……………....
 Work done is found by the equation: work done = ……………………. × ………..……………..
 The definition of gravitational field strength is …………………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….……
 So to find the work that needs to be done in order for a 1 kg object to completely
escape a planet’s gravitational field, we need to ………………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….……
 The object’s escape velocity can therefore be found by finding the speed at which an
object’s kinetic energy per unit mass is equal to ………………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….……

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

The graph below shows how the Earth’s gravitational field strength varies with distance from the surface of the Earth.
Use this graph to estimate the ESCAPE VELOCITY of an object fired from the Earth into outer space. You will wish
to annotate the graph and show full working in the space beneath.
*as gravitational field strength is always a negative value, you may also see graphs with their axes plotted as shown
below (as well as the axes shown as plotted on the previous page).
distance from
surface of
surface of earth earth / 106 m
36 × 10 6 m
0 10 20 30 40
0

–2

–4

–6

–8

g / N kg –1

–10

Escape velocity = ……………………… m s-1

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

4. Gravitational Potential Vg & Gravitational Potential Energy Eg


Follow the QR code left (also at goo.gl/jvs2GR) to view the video from www.alevelphysicsonline.com on
Gravitational Potential and Gravitational Potential Energy for more information on the following
concepts. Log in using the following details, and scroll about half way down the page.
(username: physics@aquinas.ac.uk ; password: 1234)
In finding the escape velocity in the previous section, what we had to consider, without actually naming it, was a quantity
known as the GRAVITATIONAL POTENTIAL, Vg at the Earth’s surface.
Give a definition for the term GRAVITATIONAL POTENTIAL, Vg

Gravitational Potential & Potential Energy in Uniform Gravitational Fields


Where there is NO SIGNIFICANT CHANGE in the distance an object moves from the centre of the planet, then we
can consider the GRAVITATIONAL FIELD STRENGTH g TO BE CONSTANT. This is what we have previously
done in the first year of A level Physics, whenever we solved problem where conservation of energy was considered
and objects moved between two different levels.
Consider the example below:
A Sherpa carries 45 kg of equipment from Everest base camp (altitude = 5634 m) to the summit of Mt. Everest (altitude
= 8848 m). In this case we can consider any change in the gravitational field strength g to be negligible.

(1) Calculate the gain in Gravitational Potential Energy Eg of the equipment. State the equation used in the box.

*equation NOT given in the formula booklet

Eg = ……………………….. J
Eg =
(2) Calculate the change in the Gravitational Potential Vg between Everest Base Camp and the summit of Mt.
Everest. State the equation you used in the box.

*equation NOT given in the formula booklet

Vg = ……………………….. J kg -1
Vg =
We could summarise the above as follows:

The change in gravitational potential Eg = =


energy ΔEg of an object is equal to the
product of the object’s …………….. and its change in ………………. ………………

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

Gravitational Potential & Gravitational Potential Energy changes in non-uniform fields


Problems such as those on the previous page become more complex when an object is moved a considerable distance
through a gravitational field.

For example, you may be asked to calculate the change in gravitational potential Vg when a satellite is lifted from the
Earth’s surface to a geostationary orbit position at an altitude of 36000 km above the Earth’s surface.
Explain why you cannot use the equation stated on the previous page to solve this problem. What does that equation
implicitly assume, which isn’t the case with this problem?

In order to solve a problem such as this, we need to utilise an alternative (and better!!) definition for GRAVITATIONAL
POTENTIAL Vg.
Give a better definition for the term GRAVITATIONAL POTENTIAL Vg at a point in a gravitational field.

Explain why the value for GRAVITATIONAL POTENTIAL Vg is always a negative value

For a graph of field strength g against distance r from the centre of the planet or star, we can therefore find the
gravitational potential at the point in the field by…

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

This can be done by either:

 using trapeziums or counting squares (as you did when finding the escape velocity a few pages back)
OR
 mathematically (through integration of the formula for gravitational field strength g).

Deriving the formula for gravitational potential Vg at a point in a field


*You do not need to be able to derive the equation for GRAVITATIONAL POTENTIAL Vg at a point in the field a
distance r from the centre of a body of mass M, but you will have to know and be able to use the final equation. However,
for those of you studying A level Maths, it shouldn’t be too far beyond you…

𝐺𝑀 ∞
𝑔= − so… area = ∫𝑟 𝑔 d𝑟
𝑟2

*equation given on p7 of the formula booklet

Leading to…

Vg =
An object’s GRAVITATIONAL POTENTIAL *equation also given on p7 of the formula booklet
ENERGY, Eg at a point in a field is found
simply by multiplying the object’s mass by its
potential.
This means that for an object of mass m in the
gravitational field of a planet/star of mass M, at
a distance r from the centre of the star, the
object’s gravitational potential energy can be
found by the equation:
Eg =

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

An example question

What is the change in gravitational potential Vg when a satellite is moved from the earth’s surface to its position at a
geostationary orbit height of 36000 km above the Earth’s surface? Show FULL working.
(Mass of Earth = 6.0×1024 kg ; Earth radius = 6400 km)

Vg = …………………………… J kg-1

Bonus Q: If the satellite has a mass of 800 kg, what is its change in gravitational potential energy, Eg?

g = …………………………… J

Graphs of potential Vg against distance r


Over the previous few pages we saw how gravitational potential Vg could be found from the area below a graph of field
strength g against distance r from the centre of a planet or star; or by integrating the equation for field strength g with
respect to r .
On the axes below right, plot a typical graph for how the potential Vg varies with distance r from the centre of a
planet / star, and annotate it to explain how the field strength g at point X can
be found.

The field strength g at a point in the


field can be found by…

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

An example question

The graph below shows how the gravitational potential Vg varies with distance R from the Sun.

R / 1010 m
0 5 10 15 20 25 30
0

–10

V g / 10 8 J kg –1

–20

–30

–40
(1) Find the gravitational field strength (due the Sun) at the position of Mercury’s orbit. Mercury has an average
orbital radius of 58 million kilometres. Show full working.

g = ………………………….. N kg-1
(2) Find the size of the gravitational force acting on Mercury. Mercury has a mass of 3.3×1023 kg.

F = ………………………………. N

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

Gravitational force, field strength, potential and potential energy: a summary

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

Space for your own notes


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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

Equipotentials & energy transfers


We have previously drawn field lines around a point or spherical mass such as a planet. You will also be expected to
be able to plot EQUIPOTENTIAL lines around such objects.
(1) Explain what an EQUIPOTENTIAL line is.

(2) Add to the diagram right drawing lines of


EQUIPOTENTIAL. Specifically, annotate the diagram so
that each consecutive EQUIPOTENTIAL represents an
equal sized change in gravitational potential.

(3) Explain why the EQUIPOTENTIALS you have drawn have


the spacing pattern shown.
*This is a key explanation you will have to recall

(4) Add to your diagram above to draw a satellite sitting on one of the EQUIPOTENTIALS. As it is travels in an orbit
of constant radius, it will move along the equipotential. Add labelled arrows showing:
(a) the direction of the force acting on the satellite (b) the velocity vector of the satellite

(5) Explain how the satellite can be considered to be accelerating, even though it doesn’t change speed. In your
explanation, use the following key terms:
WORK DONE KINETIC ENERGY SPEED VELOCITY
*This is another really common explanation you will be asked for in exams.

(6) When a satellite drops from one equipotential to another (i.e. it moves through the gravitational field) some key
energy transfers take place. Explain what these energy transfers are when a satellite falls from a more distant to a
closer orbit.

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

(7) In order to find the kinetic energy of a satellite in its new orbit, we need to consider the energy that it had in its
previous orbit, and the energy transfers taking place due to the satellites change in position in the gravitational
field.
Complete the following to show how you would find the new kinetic energy of a satellite in its new orbit.

NEW KINETIC ENERGY =

(8) A satellite of mass 290 kg orbits with a radius of 18000 km from the centre of the Earth.
(a) What is its:
(i) Gravitational potential energy?

Eg = ………………………. J
(ii) Orbital velocity?

v = …………………… m s-1
(iii) Kinetic energy?

Ek = ………………………. J
(iv) Total energy?

Etotal = ………………………. J

(b) The satellite is hit by a piece of space debris, which knocks it off course without changing its kinetic energy.
As a result it drops to a new orbit of radius 10000 km from the centre of the Earth. Calculate the kinetic energy
& velocity of the satellite in its new orbit.

new Ek = …………………. J new v = ……………….. m s-1

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

An example exam question on gravitational fields & energy transfers


This question is about centripetal acceleration and gravity.
(a) The Earth orbits the Sun at a radius r of 1.5×1011 m. The time for one orbit (the orbital period T) is 3.2×107 s
(one year). Calculate the centripetal acceleration of the Earth in its orbit.

circumference of orbit = 2r

centripetal acceleration = ………………………. m s-2 [2]


3
(b) (i) By equating the centripetal force on a planet with the gravitational force on the planet, show that 𝑟 ⁄ 2 is
𝑇
a constant for planets orbiting the Sun, where r is the radius of the planet’s orbit and T is the orbital period.

[4]
11
(ii) Mars orbits the Sun at an average radius of 2.28×10 m.
Use the relationship in (b)(i) and the data from (a) to find the orbital period of Mars in years.

Orbital period = ………………………………. years [2]

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

(c) In fact, the orbit of Mars is not circular. Its distance from the Sun varies between 2.1×1011 m at its closest and
2.5×1011 m at its most distant.
(i) Show that the gravitational potential energy of the planet changes by about 7×1031 J between its furthest
distance from the Sun and its nearest.

mass of Mars = 6.4×1023 kg mass of Sun = 2.0×1030 kg

[3]
4 -1
(ii) At its furthest point from the Sun, Mars travels at a speed of 2.7×10 m s .
Use your answer to (i) to calculate its speed at its closest approach to the Sun. Make your method clear.

speed at closest approach = …………………………… m s-1 [3]

markscheme for this question


available at goo.gl/pDHdv9
(QR code right)

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

5. Some applications of the theory


The following section looks at some of the applications

Satellites
Follow the QR code left (also at goo.gl/jvs2GR) to view the video from www.alevelphysicsonline.com on
Total Energy of a Satellite. Log in using the following details, and scroll about half way down the page.
(username: physics@aquinas.ac.uk ; password: 1234)

Watch the video above and use the Prezi to take some notes on the orbital properties and uses of the two following
types of satellites.

Polar orbiting

Geostationary

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

Detecting exoplanets
*Extra S&C work
Do some research and take notes on methods used to detect exoplanets around distant stars. A good starting point
would be to research the DOPPLER WOBBLE method.

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

Binary star systems


Algol is a famous example of a BINARY STAR SYSTEM – where two stars orbit their common centre of
mass. The system consists of two stars, Algol A and Algol B, both of which orbit about their common centre
of mass. Algol A is considerably brighter than Algol B. In this exercise we are going to investigate variations
in the light signal coming from Algol to calculate a number of properties of the binary star system. This
exercise will allow you to work through some of the ways we use the light from star systems such as these to
find out information about them.

1) A graph of the luminosity coming from the Algol system is shown below. Fill in the labels
with your interpretations of what is happening.
At A: ………………………………………………..
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At B: ………………………………………………..
…………………………………………………..
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2) What is the time period of orbit for the two stars?
a) in minutes: ……………….. b) in hours: ……………………. c) in days: ………………………

As the stars rotate, the alternatively move towards and away from the earth. The means that the light from the
stars gets Doppler-shifted. The graphs below show the apparent wavelength of a spectral line from the Balmer
series from the element Hydrogen. This line is usually found at 656 nm.

Algol A Algol B

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

3) Using the equation for Doppler shift, and the data from the two graphs, calculate the maximum orbital
velocities, v, for Algol A and Algol B.

Algol A: : ………..…… vA: ………..……


Algol B:  : ………..…… vB: ………..……

4) Using your values for the time period of oscillation, and the orbital velocity, calculate a value for the radius
of orbit for both Algol A, rA and Algol B, rB:

rA = …………………… rB = ……………………
5) Using the fact that Algol A and Algol B orbit their common centre of mass, and the common centre of
mass must be found by the relationship rAmA = rBmB (see below), calculate the mass ratio of Algol A to
Algol B.

mA : mB =……………………

6) We can also use Kepler’s third Law and the radii of the two planets to work out the combined mass.
Therefore it is possible to work out the individual masses of both Algol A and Algol B, just from observing
𝟒𝝅𝟐
changes in the light emitted through time. 𝑻𝟐 ∝ 𝒓𝟑 ; 𝑻𝟐 = × (𝒓𝑨 + 𝒓𝑩 )𝟑
𝑮 (𝒎𝑨 +𝒎𝑩 )

a) What is the mass of Algol A: i) in kg? …………… ii) in solar masses? ……………
b) What is the mass of Algol B: i) in kg? …………… ii) in solar masses? ……………
[mass of sun = 2.0 x 1030 kg]

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

6. Mastery Questions
These questions have their background in the ethos that anything is hard when you don’t spend much time on it, and
that things become much easier the more your practice. You will know this if you are learning to drive, or when you
pick up any other new skill for the first time. I would say that playing the piano is really really hard. But I’ve probably
not spent more than a few hours when I was very young trying. Someone who has spent hours practising playing the
piano would probably tell you that it is easy as it comes naturally to them – neglecting to mention all the hours of practice
that they have put in.
PHYSICS IS NO DIFFERENT!! THE MORE YOU PRACTICE THE BETTER YOU GET.
Have a go at the mastery questions on the following pages. You can input your answers and check they are right on the
isaacphysics.org website (see separate links for each section). You should be aiming to get correct at least the number
given at the top of each section before you can consider yourself to have mastered each of these core concepts.

online learning & skills check


Isaac Physics F5: Newtonian Gravity

1. Go to the page at isaacphysics.org/board/physicsskills_book_ch_f5 (QR code right) and answer


the questions. It should take you 30-40 minutes. You will need paper and pen to work out the
solutions to the questions out before entering your answer into the browser.
2. Please complete this for the deadline that your teacher sets you:
3. Use the space below for your working then input
your answer to the Isaac physics website linked to
Deadline for this piece of work:……………………
above.
Skills Mastery = 15/19
F5.1 to F5.4 Complete the data in the table below. You must give the correct unit for each answer. You may
assume all measurements are made above the surface of the astronomical body.

gravitational field strength g at


mass of body distance from the centre of the
this distance
/ kg body
/ N kg-1

F5.1 6400 km (Earth’s radius) 9.8

Earth’s mass 2 × Earth’s radius F5.2

4.8 × 108
6100 km F5.3
(asteroid)

F5.4 3.2 × 106 4.0

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

F5.5 Calculate the force of attraction between two metal spheres each of mass 20 kg whose centres are 20
cm apart.

F5.6 At a distance of 1.0 × 107 m from the centre of the planet Mogg, the gravitational field strength g due
to Mogg is 2.1 N kg-1. Calculate g at a distance of 5.0 × 107 m.

F5.7 The planet Mogg is completely spherical, with a radius of 2.3 × 106 m. Calculate g at a height of 100
km above the surface of the planet. Use the information given in question F5.6.

F5.8 Using the information in questions F5.6 and F5.7, calculate the gravitational field strength due to
planet Mogg at a distance of 3.0×106 m from the centre.

F5.9(a) For a planet of mass 1.0×1024 kg, calculate the gravitational potential, in J kg-1, at 2.0×107 m from the
centre of the planet.

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

F5.9(b) For a planet of mass 1.0×1024 kg, calculate the gravitational potential, in J kg-1, at 4.0×107 m from the
centre of the planet.

F5.10(a) For a planet of mass 6.0×1024 kg, calculate the gravitational potential, in J kg-1, at 6.4×106 m from the
centre of the planet.

F5.10(b) For a planet of mass 6.0×1024 kg, calculate the distance from the centre of the planet where the
gravitational potential is -1.1×106 J kg-1.

F5.11 Calculate the mass of a star which gives a gravitational potential of -8.9×108 J kg-1 a distance 1.5×1011 m from
it.

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

F5.12 Calculate the gravitational potential energy of a 200 kg satellite at the point mentioned in question F5.9(b).

F5.13 Calculate the gravitational potential energy of a 6.8×1024 kg planet at the point mentioned in question F5.11.

F5.14 The gravitational potential at the surface of the moon is -2.8 MJ kg-1. The radius of this moon is 1700 km.
Calculate the potential at a point 3400 km above the surface of the moon.

F5.15 Calculate the height above the surface of the moon in question F5.14 of a point with potential -1.2 MJ kg-1.

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

F5.16 A 2.400×1022 kg moon orbits a 7.200×1024 kg planet with an orbital radius of 2.500×108 m. Calculate the
gravitational potential at the point halfway between the centres of the planet and its moon. You should take the
Universal Gravitational constant G = 6.674×10-11 N m2 kg-2.

F5.17 Calculate the gravitational potential at a point 6.800×108 m from the centre of the planet in question F5.16 on
the same side of the planet as its moon. Again, you should take the Universal Gravitational constant G =
6.674×10-11 N m2 kg-2.

F5.18 Calculate the escape velocity from the surface of the Earth. The Earth’s radius is 6400 km, and its mass was
calculated in question F5.1.

F5.19 Calculate the minimum velocity which a space probe needs to be given to escape from the gravitational field
of a star if it starts 1.5×1011 m from the centre of the star. The mass of the star is 3.3×1030 kg.

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

Isaac Physics F6: Gravity & Orbits online learning & skills check

1. Go to the page at isaacphysics.org/board/physicsskills_book_ch_f6 (QR code right) and


answer the questions. It should take you 25-40 minutes. You will need paper and pen to work
out the solutions to the questions out before entering your answer into the browser.
2. Please complete this for the deadline that your teacher sets you:
3. Use the space below for your working then input
your answer to the Isaac physics website linked to
Deadline for this piece of work:……………………
above.

Skills Mastery = 5/6

Mass of Earth = 5.98×1024 kg ; Radius of Earth = 6400 km

F6.1 The Earth takes a year to go around the Sun on an orbit with radius of 1.50×1011 m. Calculate the
mass of the Sun.

F6.2 Calculate the orbital time period in years for a planet going round the Sun in an orbit of radius twice
that of the Earth.

F6.3 Calculate the height above the Earth’s surface for the orbit of a geostationary satellite. Give your
answer to 3 significant figures.

(orbital period = 24 hours; Earth radius = 6400 km)

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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

F6.4 The Moon’s orbit around the Earth has a radius of 3.8×108 m. Calculate the Moon’s speed in this
orbit.

F6.5 If you want something to orbit the Earth at a height of 200 km above the surface, at what speed must
it travel? Give your answer to 3 significant figures.

F6.6 What is the time period of the orbit in question F6.5?? Give your answer to 3 significant figures.

Space for your own notes


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Aquinas College Physics Module 5.1.2: Out into Space

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