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University Physics Volume 1

Conceptual Questions

University Physics Volume 1Conceptual Questions

Conceptual Questions

13.1 Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation


Action at a distance, such as is the case for gravity, was once thought to be illogical and therefore untrue. What is the ultimate determinant of the truth in science, and why was this action at a distance ultimately accepted?


In the law of universal gravitation, Newton assumed that the force was proportional to the product of the two masses (~m1m2~m1m2). While all scientific conjectures must be experimentally verified, can you provide arguments as to why this must be? (You may wish to consider simple examples in which any other form would lead to contradictory results.)

13.2 Gravitation Near Earth's Surface


Must engineers take Earth’s rotation into account when constructing very tall buildings at any location other than the equator or very near the poles?

13.3 Gravitational Potential Energy and Total Energy


It was stated that a satellite with negative total energy is in a bound orbit, whereas one with zero or positive total energy is in an unbounded orbit. Why is this true? What choice for gravitational potential energy was made such that this is true?


It was shown that the energy required to lift a satellite into a low Earth orbit (the change in potential energy) is only a small fraction of the kinetic energy needed to keep it in orbit. Is this true for larger orbits? Is there a trend to the ratio of kinetic energy to change in potential energy as the size of the orbit increases?

13.4 Satellite Orbits and Energy


One student argues that a satellite in orbit is in free fall because the satellite keeps falling toward Earth. Another says a satellite in orbit is not in free fall because the acceleration due to gravity is not 9.80m/s29.80m/s2. With whom do you agree with and why?


Many satellites are placed in geosynchronous orbits. What is special about these orbits? For a global communication network, how many of these satellites would be needed?

13.5 Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion


Are Kepler’s laws purely descriptive, or do they contain causal information?


In the diagram below for a satellite in an elliptical orbit about a much larger mass, indicate where its speed is the greatest and where it is the least. What conservation law dictates this behavior? Indicate the directions of the force, acceleration, and velocity at these points. Draw vectors for these same three quantities at the two points where the y-axis intersects (along the semi-minor axis) and from this determine whether the speed is increasing decreasing, or at a max/min.

A diagram showing an x y coordinate system and an ellipse, centered on the origin with foci on the x axis. The focus on the left is labeled f 1 and M. The focus on the right is labeled f 2. A location labeled as m is shown above f 2. The right triangle defined by f 1, f 2, and m is shown in red. The clockwise direction tangent to the ellipse is indicated by blue arrows.

13.6 Tidal Forces


As an object falls into a black hole, tidal forces increase. Will these tidal forces always tear the object apart as it approaches the Schwarzschild radius? How does the mass of the black hole and size of the object affect your answer?

13.7 Einstein's Theory of Gravity


The principle of equivalence states that all experiments done in a lab in a uniform gravitational field cannot be distinguished from those done in a lab that is not in a gravitational field but is uniformly accelerating. For the latter case, consider what happens to a laser beam at some height shot perfectly horizontally to the floor, across the accelerating lab. (View this from a nonaccelerating frame outside the lab.) Relative to the height of the laser, where will the laser beam hit the far wall? What does this say about the effect of a gravitational field on light? Does the fact that light has no mass make any difference to the argument?


As a person approaches the Schwarzschild radius of a black hole, outside observers see all the processes of that person (their clocks, their heart rate, etc.) slowing down, and coming to a halt as they reach the Schwarzschild radius. (The person falling into the black hole sees their own processes unaffected.) But the speed of light is the same everywhere for all observers. What does this say about space as you approach the black hole?

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