# The force of gravity holds us on Earth and helps objects in space stay

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1 96 R E A D I N G The force of gravity holds us on Earth and helps objects in space stay in orbit. The planets in the Solar System could not continue to orbit the Sun without the force of gravity. Astronauts need to know a lot about gravity when they travel in space because they often orbit Earth. Those controlling the flight of any spacecraft must consider the effects of gravity from Earth and other planets on the spacecraft s course and safety. CHALLENGE How does gravity affect space travel? The pull of gravity between this astronaut and Earth keeps him in orbit. G-49

2 MATERIALS For each student 1 Student Sheet 96.1, Anticipation Guide: The Effects of Gravity READING Complete Student Sheet 96.1, Anticipation Guide: Gravity to help prepare for the following reading. Direction of Gravity Gravity is a force that pulls any two objects toward each other. You are familiar with gravity as the force that pulls things down toward Earth. But when considering Earth as a planet, which direction is down? Look at the diagram at right, which shows people standing on the surface of the Earth. Down is a different direction at different locations on the surface, but down is always the direction toward the center of Earth. Gravity always pulls the center of two objects toward each other. STOPPING TO THINK 1 Argentina and Japan are on exactly opposite sides of the globe. Is down in Japan the same direction as down in Argentina? Explain. G-50

3 Strength of Gravity Mass and Distance The strength of the force of gravity between two objects depends on the mass of the two objects and the distance between them. All things with mass exert a gravitational pull on other objects with mass. The more mass an object has, the stronger it pulls. Earth is the most massive object near us, and so it has a strong attractive force. This is why things fall down toward Earth, specifically the center of Earth. But, strange as it may sound, while Earth pulls on an object near it, the object also pulls Earth. When an object falls to the ground, even a paper clip, for example, Earth is pulled toward the falling object. This is because the falling object has mass, and any object with mass exerts a gravitational force on any other object. In the case of an object falling to Earth, however, the Earth moves much less than the object does, because Earth has so much more mass than the falling object. The force of gravity near other planets is different than it is near Earth because each planet has a different mass. An object s weight on Earth is the pull of gravity between it and Earth. If the object is on another planet or moon, its weight is the force of gravity between it and the planet or moon. For example, Jupiter s gravitational pull is stronger than Earth s because Jupiter has more mass than Earth. A 10-kg rock on Earth would still have 10 kg of mass near Jupiter, but the rock s weight would be greater near Jupiter. STOPPING TO THINK 2 Why do astronauts have the same mass on the Moon as they do on Earth, but weigh less on the Moon? The reduced weight of this astronaut made him bounce when he walked on the Moon. In this television picture from a Moon landing, the astronaut jumped high as he saluted the flag. G-51

4 Across a very long distance, gravity pulled these two galaxies toward each other. When an object near Earth drops, it falls toward Earth instead of toward a more massive object, such as Jupiter or the Sun. This means the force of gravity must be determined by something more than mass. As you saw in the last activity, the farther away an object is from a planet, the weaker the gravitational force between them. The opposite is also true the closer two objects are, the stronger the gravitational force between them. You may not have realized it, but you weigh slightly less when you are in an airplane flying high above Earth because you are farther from the center of Earth. A 150-pound person weighs about one-half pound less while flying in an airplane. Similarly, since the Sun is so far away, its gravitational pull on objects near Earth is not as strong as Earth s, even though it has much more mass than Earth. Although the pull of an object s gravity decreases as you move farther away from it, gravity never entirely disappears. There is always a gravitational attraction between the centers of two objects, no matter how far apart they are. The long reach of gravity is an important consideration for space travel. When a spacecraft is launched, it only needs to use fuel until it gets so far away from Earth that Earth s gravity has very little effect on it. Beyond that point, it travels without using any fuel at all (except when it needs to slow down or turn). If it gets close enough to another planet, the Moon, or the Sun, the gravitational force between the two will increase and the spacecraft will be pulled toward that object. STOPPING TO THINK 3 a. Would you expect to weigh more on an ocean beach or on top of a mountain? Explain. b. Outside the Solar System is there any gravitational pull from the Sun? G-52

5 Gravity and Orbiting Objects Since Earth s gravity pulls everything down toward its center, why don t satellites and even the Moon come crashing down to Earth? Strange as it may seem, gravity helps satellites and the Moon stay in orbit around Earth. Imagine throwing a ball as fast as you can. It might go 30 meters before it hits the ground. The ball curves as it falls because the force of gravity is pulling it down as it travels. Next, imagine that you have a cannon on the top of a tall tower as in the diagram below. Your cannonball might go quite a distance before it hits the ground (Path A). Now, imagine that you have a cannon that can fire a cannonball faster. It would travel much farther before falling to the ground (Path B). If you could keep firing cannonballs at higher and higher speeds, eventually one would go fast enough that it would fall all the way around Earth, but never hit the ground (Path C). An orbiting object is being pulled down by gravity, but it is going fast enough that it never actually hits the ground. If a satellite, or even the Moon, were not moving fast enough, it would begin to spiral back to Earth. A B C D A & B: Speed too slow: Satellite falls back to Earth because orbit is too small. C: Speed just right: Satellite stays in orbit around Earth. D: Speed too fast: Satellite goes beyond orbit and does not return. When a spacecraft is launched, launch speed is very important. If the speed is too low, it will fall back to Earth like the cannonball in Path A. If the speed is just right, it will go into orbit. If the speed is greater than what is needed for the spacecraft to get into orbit, it can break away from Earth s gravity. This is how spacecraft are sent to the Moon, Mars, or farther. STOPPING TO THINK 4 What is likely to happen to a rocket that takes off at a slow speed? G-53

6 A shuttle is launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. Weightlessness Outside the Solar System, far away from the Sun and any planets, the pull of gravity is so small that a 150-pound person would not have any measurable weight at all. So far, no human has ever gone that far. Astronauts orbiting around Earth are too close to Earth to experience near-zero gravity. A 150-lb person weighs about 136 lbs while orbiting Earth. However, an astronaut may still feel weightless in an orbiting spacecraft. The reason astronauts float in space is not because they there is no force of gravity. Instead, they float because they are moving in an orbit. As they move along the path of the orbit, the spacecraft and the astronauts on board are constantly falling towards Earth due to the pull of gravity. This free falling makes astronauts appear to be floating. The astronauts weightlessness is the same as you feel for a moment when you re on a rollercoaster and your car plunges down a steep slope. Both your body and the rollercoaster car are free-falling together, just like the astronaut in a spacecraft. You can experience weightlessness yourself if a gravitational force pulls on you but you are not held up by a surface, as shown at right. STOPPING TO THINK 5 How is going over the top of a rollercoaster like experiencing weightlessness in space? G-54

7 Earth Pull of gravity on spacecraft and astronaut Push of Earth holds up spacecraft and astronaut Pull of gravity on spacecraft and astronaut No push from the Earth or atmosphere On Earth s surface, the Earth pushes the spacecraft and astronaut up just as much as the gravitational force pulls them down. In orbit, the Earth and its atmos phere are not pushing up. The spacecraft and astronaut fall freely and experience weightlessness. ANALYSIS 1. Choose one of the objects listed in the table to the right. Describe how astronauts weights might change if they visited the object. 2. Your friend tells you that there is no gravity in the space shuttle, which orbits at 400 km (250 miles) above Earth. Do you agree or disagree? Explain. 3. What do you think would happen to a satellite in orbit if it suddenly stopped? Explain. Object Mass* Mercury Venus 0.86 Earth 1.00 Mars 0.11 Jupiter 318 Saturn 95 Uranus 14.5 Neptune 17.2 Sun 330,000 Moon 0.01 *relative to Earth G-55

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