Students
know the strength of the gravitational force between two objects increases
with mass and decreases rapidly with distance. I/S
Students know the strength of the gravitational force between two
objects increases with mass and decreases rapidly with distance. I/S
Most students will be able to say that gravity is the force that
pulls things down. Though known prior to his birth, Newton is credited
with the discovery that gravity is universal (i.e., any object with
mass has a gravitational field). The force that causes objects to
“fall” (all objects are PULLED to the CENTER of a mass) on Earth is the (1) same force
that causes the Earth to continuously orbit the Sun, and in turn,
(2) the Sun to revolve around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.
Gravity, the name referring to the attractive forces between objects,
is a theory explaining the cause of these attractions. Through observations
of its affect on objects and the use of Newton’s laws of motion,
gravitational force is measurable. Gravitational force is a field
force that is infinite in distance and therefore extends throughout
the universe. However, gravitational force diminishes greatly with
separation between the masses (the inverse square law). Newton’s
Law of Universal Gravitation states that every object attracts every
other object and that the force of attraction is directly proportional
to the masses of the objects; and, as stated above, inversely proportional
to the square of the distances between the two masses. This law is
represented symbolically as:
m_{1} = mass of the first object (kg)
m_{2} = mass of the second object (kg)
d^{2} = the square of the distances between the centers of the masses
(m)
To learn more about Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation go
to http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Class/circles/U6L3c.html.
Thanks to experiments by Henry Cavendish, Newton’s Law of Universal
Gravitation can be written as an exact equation when including the
Universal Gravitational Constant (G). Cavendish, in the eighteenth
century, measured the torsion force in a bar as two large lead spheres
were brought close to the masses at the end of the bar. By carefully
measuring all the masses, the force of torsion, and the distance the
balance was twisted, Cavendish could calculate G. Due to Cavendish’s
discovery of the gravitational constant, G = 6.67 x 1011 N m2/kg2
the universal gravitational law can be written as the exact equation:
F = force (N)
G = gravitational force constant (6.67 x 1011 N m2/kg2)
m_{1} = mass of the first object (kg)
m_{2} = mass of the second object (kg)
d^{2} = the square of the distances between the centers of the masses
(m)
Gravity is one of the four fundamental forces (the others are the
strong nuclear, electromagnetic, and weak nuclear). With G being so
small, gravity is the weakest of the four fundamental forces.
To learn more about the four fundamental forces, go to
http://hyperphysics.phyastr.gsu.edu/hbase/forces/funfor.html#c1
Though the force of gravity decreases as distance increases, gravitational
forces do not cease. It must be understood that Earth’s gravitational
force on an object will diminishes with distance, but it will NEVER
reach zero. Even if an object were placed at the farthest reaches of
space Earth’s gravitational force will still be present. The measurable
amount of force from Earth may be very small at this point, when compared
to the gravitational forces of other bodies closer to the object, but
it will never be zero. This rapid reduction of the gravitational forces
between two objects as the distance between the objects increases follows
the inverse square law.
For more information about the inverse square law and gravity go
to http://hyperphysics.phyastr.gsu.edu/hbase/forces/isq.html#isqg.
Einstein furthered Newton’s work on gravitation with General
Relativity, where the cause of the gravitational force is described.
In General Relativity, gravitation is a geometric property caused
when masses deform space and time. We perceive this geometric property
as a force of attraction between masses as defined by Newton’s
Law of Universal Gravitation. To learn more about General Relativity,
go to http://archive.ncsa.uiuc.edu/Cyberia/NumRel/GenRelativity.html
Other concepts associated with gravity include weight, centripetal
force, tides, and escape velocity. To learn more about the connection
to gravity, go to
http://hyperphysics.phyastr.gsu.edu/hbase/grav.html#grvcon.
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Content Benchmark P.12.B.4
Students know the strength of the gravitational force between two
objects increases with mass and decreases rapidly with distance. I/S
Common misconceptions associated with this benchmark:
1. Students incorrectly think that Earth's gravity
does not extend beyond the atmosphere and this is why astronauts are
“weightless.”
Astronauts appear to be weightless because they are in constant freefall.
While the space shuttle, with the astronaut inside, is in orbit around
Earth, the shuttle’s velocity is tangential to the orbital path.
Because the gravitational force is pulling the shuttle towards the
center of Earth and the velocity of the shuttle is tangential, the
resulting path of the shuttle is elliptical. This path is what allows
freefall to continue, and allows for the apparent weightlessness.
This misconception typically stems from the students difficulty in
understanding the independence of motion in an x and y coordinate
system. In reality, an astronaut orbiting at 400 km above the Earth’s
surface will experience g value of approximately 8.7 m/s^{2} (as compared
to 9.8 m/s^{2} at Earth’s surface). The astronaut’s resulting
weight is only about 10% less at 400 km than at Earth’s surface.
A lengthy description of this misconception is described at http://www.merga.net.au/documents/RP722005.pdf.
Learn more about the physics of orbit at http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Class/circles/U6L4d.html.
2. Students incorrectly think that there is no gravity
on the moon.
This misconception may stem from video footage of astronauts on the
Moon. The astronauts appear to “float” as they walk across
the surface. Because the Moon has mass, it has gravity. Students should
understand that the gravitational force between the astronaut and
the moon is less because the mass of the moon is so much less than
that of the Earth. Because the astronaut’s leg muscles are accustom
to carrying a weight six times greater, the astronaut has a much easier
time getting around. On the surface of the Moon, the acceleration
due to gravity is about 1/6th as much as the Earth’s.
To learn more about this misconception and available resources go
to http://hypertextbook.com/facts/2004/MichaelRobbins.shtml.
3. Students often incorrectly believe that gravity
increases with height above the Earth's surface.
This is probably due to a misunderstanding of the inverse square
law. As distance increases between two masses the force between those
masses decreases rapidly.
Read more about Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitational and
complete some calculations at http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Class/circles/U6L3c.html.
4. Students incorrectly think that mass and weight
are the same, and that they are constant.
Mass is the amount of matter in an object and is directly responsible
for the amount of gravitational force. The more massive the object,
the larger the gravitational force (the mass of an object can change
if pieces of the object are removed). Weight is the affect of a gravitational
force on a mass. When a student steps on a scale the student is measuring
the amount of gravitational force that is being applied to his mass.
If the student was to travel to the moon his mass would be the same,
but his weight would decrease by 1/6th. What a diet!
To see actual question that students have asked and the responses
given by physicists go to http://amazingspace.stsci.edu/eds/tools/topic/gravity.php.
p=Teaching+tools%40%2Ceds%2Ctools%2C
4. Students incorrectly think that gravity is caused
by magnetic fields.
The magnetic fields on Earth provide for a habitable planet because
they block solar radiation and are the cause of auroras. Gravity,
however, is only caused by mass. The more massive the object, the
larger the gravitational force.
To learn more about students understanding of gravity, and for a
list of common misconceptions go to
http://www.physics.umaine.edu/ncomins/gravity.htm.
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Content Benchmark P.12.B.4
Students know strength of gravitational force between two objects increases with mass and decreases rapidly with distance. I/S
Sample Test Questions
1^{st} Item Specification: Identify the components of gravitational force and gravitational potential energy.
Depth of Knowledge Level 1
 Of the four fundamental forces, which is the LEAST powerful?
 Strong nuclear force
 Gravitational force
 Electromagnetic force
 Weak nuclear force
 What is the cause of the gravitational force between the Earth and the Sun?
 Earth’s magnetic field causes the gravitational force.
 The Sun’s rotation about its axis causes the gravitational force.
 The masses of both the Earth and Sun cause the gravitational force.
 The tangential velocity of the Earth causes the gravitational force.
 Gravitational potential energy stored within a mass is a direct result of the
 volume of the mass.
 height of the mass.
 rotation of the mass.
 surface area of the mass.
Depth of Knowledge Level 2
 If the height of an object, held above Earth’s surface, were doubled the gravitational potential energy associated with the object would be
 ¼ as great
 ½ as great.
 twice as great.
 four times greater.
 Use the diagrams below to answer the following question.
Which of the diagrams represent a system with the SMALLEST gravitational force?
 Diagram I
 Diagram II
 Diagram III
 Diagram IV
2^{nd} Item Specification: Explain that gravitational force becomes stronger as the masses increase and become weaker as the distance between the objects increases.
Depth of Knowledge Level 1
 Two objects are at a fixed distance between each other. As the masses of these two objects increases, the strength of the gravitational forces between them
 increases.
 decreases.
 decrease then increase.
 increase then decrease.
 As the separation between two masses increases, the strength of the gravitational forces between them
 increases.
 decreases.
 decrease then increase.
 increase then decrease.
Depth of Knowledge Level 2
 If Earth suddenly became twice its’ current mass but stayed its current size, what is one effect you would notice?
 Your weight would become twice as great.
 Your mass would become twice as great.
 Your weight would become half as much.
 Your mass would become half as much.
 You start to climb a vertically placed ladder that is 500 m long. Which of the following would be true?
 As you climbed the ladder your weight would increase slightly.
 As you climbed the ladder your mass would increase slightly.
 As you climbed the ladder your weight would decrease slightly.
 As you climbed the ladder your mass would decrease slightly.
3^{rd} Item Specification: Explain that in some cases weight could change while mass stays the same.
Depth of Knowledge Level 1
 Your weight on Earth is a direct result of
 Earth’s gravitational force acting on your mass.
 Earth’s volume acting on your mass.
 Earth’s core rotating and acting on your mass.
 Earth’s gravitational force acting on your volume.
 The mass of an object is directly related to the
 force of gravity acting on that object.
 amount of space the object occupies.
 amount of material in the object.
 location of the object in space.
Depth of Knowledge Level 2
 A space shuttle is orbiting Earth. The astronauts inside the space shuttle
 are in a gravityfree environment.
 will experience an absence of mass.
 are in constant freefall and appear weightless.
 will experience an increase in weight.
 Which of the following statements best explains why an astronaut weighs less on the Moon then they would on Earth?
 As the astronaut travels away from the Earth, they loss mass and would therefore
weigh less on the Moon.
 On the Moon there is no air and this lack of air pressure causes the astronauts to be weightless.
 The Moon has less mass so gravitational force is less on the Moon’s surface.
 Because the Earth’s gravitational force affects all masses and the Moon is far from Earth.
 Which of the following situations would cause your weight on Earth to increase?
 The distance between Earth’s core and you doubles.
 Your mass is doubled and your distance to Earth’s core is tripled.
 Your mass is doubled and Earth’s mass remains the same.
 Earth’s mass is doubled and your distance from Earth’s core is doubled.
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Content Benchmark P.12.B.4
Students know strength of gravitational force between two objects increases with mass and decreases rapidly with distance. I/S
Answers to Sample Test Questions
 B, DOK Level 1
 C, DOK Level 1
 B, DOK Level 1
 C, DOK Level 2
 D, DOK Level 2
 A, DOK Level 1
 B, DOK Level 1
 A, DOK Level 2
 C, DOK Level 2
 A, DOK Level 1
 C, DOK Level 1
 C, DOK Level 2
 C, DOK Level 2
 C. DOK Level 2
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Content Benchmark P.12.B.4
Students
know the strength of the gravitational force between two objects increases
with mass and decreases rapidly with distance. I/S
Intervention Strategies and Resources
The following is a list of intervention strategies and resources
that will facilitate student understanding of this benchmark.
1. Black Holes and Gravitation
The Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum have put together a fairly
complete thematic unit about gravity through the lens of Black Hole
exploration. The objectives of their unit are:
a. Students will be able to identify gravity as the main mover and
shaper of the Universe.
b. Students will identify and describe black holes as extreme examples
of gravity.
c. Students will illustrate that our understanding of gravity continues
to evolve.
To access the site, go to
http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/education/resources/gravity/gravity912.pdf
The content resources document can be found at their site:
http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/education/resources/gravity/912_cb11.shtml
2. History of Gravity Debate
The Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum have also put together
a Socratic debate about the history of gravity. It includes webbased
material that students can use to collect information about past ideas.
I believe that evaluating past scientists’ work as well as other
students interpretation of their work will help weed out misconceptions
that students have prior to discussions about the Law of Universal
Gravitation.
To view the debate, go to
http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/education/resources/
gravity/58_gq41.pdf
3. The Physics Classroom
Physicsclassroom.com is a website that provides tutorials for students.
Students can read about information and concepts that are presented
in class, view diagrams and animations, and answer questions. Lesson
3 in “Circular Motion and Planetary Motion” starts off
with Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation.
To visit the tutorials, go to
http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Class/circles/U6L3a.html.
4. ASU Physics Modeling Program
Arizona State University runs a modeling physics program. In that
program students are given a force concept inventory, the results
of the inventory highlight misconceptions about forces.
These misconceptions are found at this site,
http://modeling.asu.edu/R&E/forceConceptionTaxon92.doc.
The program at ASU also offers materials that can easily be used
in the classroom at http://modeling.asu.edu/Curriculum.html.
A unit overview that deals specifically with this benchmark is found
at http://modeling.asu.edu/Modelingpub/Mechanics_curriculum/
4FPinertia/01_U4%20Teachernotes.pdf,
or in unit four from the curriculum page.
5. HyperPhysics Web Site
HyperPhysics (http://hyperphysics.phyastr.gsu.edu/hbase/hph.html)
is a Web site from Georgia State University. This is one of the most
complete physics content resources available. The site is a lattice
of concept maps with hyperlinks to each topic. Most topics have an
outline of content with links to further content, applets for practice
problems, and further resources.
The section that deals with the gravitation benchmark is http://hyperphysics.phyastr.gsu.edu/hbase/grav.html#grav.
From here students can click on concepts within the map to view more
information, and see the interconnections throughout the basic physics
concepts.
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