Main content

## Physics library

### Course: Physics library > Unit 4

Lesson 3: Newton's law of gravitation- Introduction to gravity
- Mass and weight clarification
- Gravity for astronauts in orbit
- Would a brick or feather fall faster?
- Acceleration due to gravity at the space station
- Space station speed in orbit
- Introduction to Newton's law of gravitation
- Gravitation (part 2)

© 2023 Khan AcademyTerms of usePrivacy PolicyCookie Notice

# Acceleration due to gravity at the space station

AP.PHYS:

FLD‑2.B (EU)

, FLD‑2.B.1 (EK)

, FLD‑2.B.1.1 (LO)

, FLD‑2.B.2 (EK)

, FLD‑2.B.2.1 (LO)

What is the acceleration due to gravity at the space station. Created by Sal Khan.

## Want to join the conversation?

- Hypothetically, would two objects in deep space that are a few miles away from each other, with no massive objects near them within millions of miles, float towards each other due to Newton's law of gravitation?(17 votes)
- Not necessarily. It depends on their masses and the masses of the other bodies that are "millions of miles away". It is possible that the objects in deep space would be pulled towards the other objects if the other objects' masses are much greater than the mass of the closer object.(1 vote)

- What is a Gravitational Well? Thank You!(4 votes)
- I disagree; you don't need to invoke the fabric of space-time to explain a gravity well.

A gravity well is simply a way of thinking of objects with mass in space, and how hard it is to pull away from those objects (i.e. how hard it is to climb out of the well).

If you are stuck in a well, you need to use enough energy to be able to escape the well. Likewise, if you are in the gravity well of a star or a black hole, you need to gain enough energy to be able to escape its pull. The more massive the object, the deeper the well.

Easy peasy.(6 votes)

- what happens to acceleration due to gravity when we go deeper into earth ??(5 votes)
- To clarify a bit about why exactly gravity increases and then decreases as you go from space to Earth's core (excellent figure, drdarkcheese1), let's think of the relevant equation:

a_g = G*M/r^2, where G is the gravitational constant and r is your distance from the Earth's center. Now think of M. Normally, this is just the mass of Earth when we do these calculations, because we don't normally think of gravity inside an object. If you go deep into the planet, though, the core's mass will still pull you down, but now the mass that is over your head will be pulling you up! Thus, gravity will decrease all the way to zero as we reach the center of the planet.

Pretty neat, eh?

-RNS(3 votes)

- If you were in a space station, why would you float while the ISS is in orbit?(3 votes)
- Because when you fall, you experience weightlessness. I recommend Sal's video on elevators, and the Normal Force in elevators. Basically, If you and, say, a platform you are on, are in freefall, there will be no normal force, as the platform isn't counteracting any pressure you are applying to it.(3 votes)

- why does acceleration due to gravity decrease as we go into the surface of the earth <hypothetically

?>(3 votes)- It increases as you get closer to the mass center of Earth.

As Newton's law of universal gravitation states:

F=gravitational constant * m1 * m2 / r^2

If you decrease r (the distance of your and Earth's center of mass) you will get a greater force acting on you.(2 votes)

- Guys, does gravity increase as we go towards the center of the Earth? Or it is maximum on the surface?(1 vote)
- Assuming uniform density of the Earth, the gravity decreases as you go towards the center until it reaches zero at the center. The reason it is zero is because there is equal mass surrounding you in all directions so the gravity is pulling you equally in all directions causing the net force on you to be zero. In actuality, the density of the Earth is significantly higher in the core than mantle/crust, so the gravity doesn't quite decrease linearly until you reach the core, but it is zero in the center.(4 votes)

- Well! in earth rockets pull up by the principle of Newton's 3rd law. Does it push the air molecules on the midway in the atmosphere to receive an opposite force from the air? And if it is so how does the rocket move in the space where there is nothing to be pushed or to exert force?(1 vote)
- The rocket expels mass (rocket fuel) at very high velocity. Conservation of momentum and Newton's 3rd law explain how the rocket will move in the opposite direction of that mass expulsion.(5 votes)

- I have two questions here:

1. If there is an astronaut between two super incredibly large stars(let say their masses are 1000000000 suns respectively). What will happen to the astronaut?

2. Is there a place where earth no longer can exert its gravitational force, or everything in the universe will have the force but just really small and the force close are to zero?(2 votes)- 1. That depends on where the astronaut is between the two stars. If the astronaut is at the right place, the astronaut will not accelerate at all. At any other place, the astronaut will accelerate towards one of the stars.

2. Because of Newton's Law of Gravitation, it is impossible for there to be zero gravitational force, but at ridiculously large distances, the force of gravity becomes so small that it can be neglected.(3 votes)

- Acceleration is the rate of change of velocity of an object in time. when an object is on the earth surface how come acceleration due to gravity takes place, in which the object is stationary?(1 vote)
- If the object is stationary then there is no acceleration due to gravity. The acceleration due to gravity can only be observed when the object is in free fall. There's still a force due to gravity, and that can be measured with a scale. But obviously if that force is offset by another force, there's not going to be acceleration, right?

If you know the acceleration due to gravity is 9.8 m/s^2 then you also know that the force due to gravity is 9.8 N/kg(4 votes)

- How did Newton discover the universal gravitational costant,and how can have he known that the attraction of two objects is equal to the product of their masses divided by their distance squared ??i mean why distance squared and not just distance??this is really something I need someone to explain me pls(2 votes)

## Video transcript

Most physics books will tell
you that the acceleration due to gravity near the
surface of the Earth is 9.81 meters per
second squared. And this is an approximation. And what I want to
do in this video is figure out if this is the
value we get when we actually use Newton's law of
universal gravitation. And that tells us that the
force of gravity between two objects-- and let's just
talk about the magnitude of the force of gravity
between two objects-- is equal to the universal
gravitational constant times the mass of one of the
bodies, M1, times the mass of the second body divided by
the distance between the center of masses of the bodies squared. So let's use this, the
universal law of gravitation to figure out what the
acceleration due to gravity should be at the
surface of the Earth. And I have a g right over here. I have the mass of the Earth,
which I've looked up over here. And we also have the
radius of the Earth. And for the sake of
this, we're going to assume that the distance
between the body, if we're at the the surface of the
Earth, the distance between that and the center of
the Earth is just going to be the
radius of the Earth. And so this will give us
the magnitude of the force. If we want to figure out the
magnitude of the acceleration, which this really is-- I
actually didn't write this is a vector. So this is just the magnitude
of the acceleration. If you wanted the acceleration,
which is a vector, you'd have to say downwards or
towards the center of the Earth in this case. But if you want
the acceleration, we just have to
remember that force is equal to mass
times acceleration. And if you wanted to
solve for acceleration you just divide both
sides times mass. So force divided by mass
is equal to acceleration. Or if you take the
magnitude of your force and you divide by
mass, you're going to get the magnitude
of your acceleration. This is a scalar quantity. This is a scalar
quantity right over here. So if you want the acceleration
due to gravity, you divide. Let's write this in terms of
the force of gravity on Earth. So the magnitude of
the force of gravity on Earth, this one
right over here. So this will be in
the case of Earth. I just wrote Earth
really, really small. So one of these masses
is going to be Earth. It's going to be this
mass right over here. And so if you wanted
the acceleration due to gravity at the
surface of the Earth, you would just have to
divide by the mass that is being accelerated
due to that force. And in this case, it
is the other mass. It is the mass that's
sitting on the surface. So let's divide both
sides by that mass. Let's divide both
sides by that mass. And this will give
us the magnitude of the acceleration on
that mass due to gravity. So this is equal to the
magnitude of acceleration, due to gravity. And the whole reason why this
is actually a simplifying thing is that these two, this M2
right over here and this M2 cancels out. And so the magnitude
of our acceleration due to gravity using Newton's
universal law of gravitation is just going to be this
expression right over here. It's going to be the
gravitational constant times the mass of the Earth
divided by the distance between the object's
center of mass and the center of the
mass of the Earth. And we're going to
assume that the object is right at the surface,
that its center of mass is right at the surface. So this is actually going to
be the radius of the Earth squared, so divided
by radius squared. Sometimes this is also viewed
as the gravitational field at the surface of the Earth. Because if you
multiply it by a mass, it tells you how much force
is pulling on that mass. But with that out of
the way, let's actually use a calculator to
calculate what this value is. And then what I want to do
is figure out, well, one, I want to compare
it to the value that the textbooks
give us and see, maybe, why it may or may
not be different. And then think
about how it changes as we get further
and further away from the surface of the Earth. And in particular, if
we get to an altitude that the space shuttle or the
International Space Station might be at, and this is at
an altitude of 400 kilometers is where it tends to
hang out, give or take a little bit, depending
on what it is up to. So first, let's just
figure out what this value is when we use a universal
law of gravitation. So let's get my calculator out. So we know what g is. It is 6.6738 times 10
to the negative 11. This EE button means, literally,
times 10 to the negative 11. So this is 6.6738 times
10 to the negative 11. And then I want to
multiply that times the mass of Earth, which
is right over here. That is 5.9722 times
10 to the 24th. So times 10 to the 24th power. And we want to divide that by
the radius of Earth squared. So divided by the
radius of Earth is-- so this is in kilometers. And I just want to make
sure that everything is the same units. So 6,371 kilometers--
actually, let me scroll over. Well, you can't see the
kilometers right now. But this is kilometers. It is the same thing
as 6,371,000 meters. If you just multiply
this by 1,000. Or you could even
write this as 6.371. 6.371 times 10 to
the sixth meters. And we're going to square this. That's the radius of the Earth. The distance between the center
of mass of Earth and the center of mass of this object,
which is sitting at the surface of the Earth. And so let's get our drum roll. And we get 9.8. And if we round, we actually
get something a little bit higher than what the
textbooks give us. We get 9.82. Let's just round. So we get 9.82-- 9.82
meters per second squared. And so you might say,
well, what's going on here? Why do we have this
discrepancy between what the universal law of
gravitation gives us and what the average
measured acceleration due to the force of gravity
at the surface of the Earth. And the discrepancy here, the
discrepancy between these two numbers, is really
because Earth is not a uniform sphere
of uniform density. And that's what we have
to assume over here when we use the universal
law of gravitation. It's actually a little bit
flatter than a perfect sphere. And it definitely does
not have uniform density. The different layers of the
Earth have different densities. You have all sorts of
different interactions. And then you also, if you
measure effective gravity, there's also a little bit of a
buoyancy effect from the air. Very, very, very,
very negligible, I don't know if it would have
been enough to change this. But there's other minor,
minor effects, irregularities. Earth is not a perfect sphere. It is not of uniform density. And that's what accounts
for the bulk of this. Now, with that out of the
way, what I'm curious about is what is the
acceleration due to gravity if we go up 400 kilometers? So now, the main difference
here, g will stay the same. The mass of Earth
will stay the same, but the radius is now
going to be different. Because now we're placing the
center of mass of our object-- whether it's a space station
or someone sitting in the space station, they're going to
be 400 kilometers higher. And I'm going to exaggerate
what 400 kilometers looks like. This is not drawn to scale. But now the radius is going
to be the radius of the Earth plus 400 kilometers. So now, for the case
of the space station, r is going to be not
6,371 kilometers. It's going to be 6,000--
we're going to add 400 to this-- 6,771
kilometers, which is the same thing as
6,771,000 meters, which is the same thing as 6.771
times 10 to the sixth meters. This is-- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,
6-- 10 to the sixth meters. So let's go back
to our calculator. So second entry, that's
the last entry we had. And instead of 6.371
times 10 to the sixth, let's add 400
kilometers to that. So then we get 6.7. So we're adding 400 kilometers. So it was 371. Now it's 771 times
10 to the sixth. And what do we get? We get 8.69 meters
per second squared. So now the acceleration here is
8.69 meters per second squared. And you can verify that
the units work out. Because over here,
gravity is in meters cubed per kilogram
second squared. You multiply that times
the mass of the Earth, which is in kilograms. The kilograms cancel out
with these kilograms. And then you're dividing
by meters squared. So you divide this
by meters squared. You're left with meters
per second squared. So the units work out as well. So there's an important
thing to realize. And this is a misconception. We do a whole video
on it earlier, when we talk about the
universal law of gravitation, is that there is gravity when
you are in orbit up here. The only reason why it feels
like there's not gravity or it looks like
there's not gravity is that this space
station is moving so fast that it's
essentially in free fall. But it's moving so fast that
it keeps missing the Earth. And in the next video,
we'll figure out how fast does it have to
travel in order for it to stay in orbit, in order for it to not
plummet to Earth due to this, due to the force of gravity,
due to the acceleration that is occurring, this centripetal,
this center-seeking acceleration?