Lectures on Physics has been derived from Benjamin Crowell's Light and Matter series of free introductory textbooks on physics. See the editorial for more information....

Summary - Keppler's Laws

Kepler deduced three empirical laws from data on the motion of the planets:

Kepler's elliptical orbit law:
The planets orbit the sun in elliptical orbits with the sun at one focus.

Kepler's equal-area law:
The line connecting a planet to the sun sweeps out equal areas in equal amounts of time.

Kepler's law of periods:
The time required for a planet to orbit the sun is proportional to the long axis of the ellipse raised to the 3/2 power. The constant of proportionality is the same for all the planets.

Newton was able to find a more fundamental explanation for these laws. Newton's law of gravity states that the magnitude of the attractive force between any two objects in the universe is given by

F = Gm1m2/r2 .

Weightlessness of objects in orbit around the earth is only apparent. An astronaut inside a spaceship is simply falling along with the spaceship. Since the spaceship is falling out from under the astronaut, it appears as though there was no gravity accelerating the astronaut down toward the deck.

Gravitational forces, like all other forces, add like vectors. A gravitational force such as we ordinarily feel is the vector sum of all the forces exerted by all the parts of the earth. As a consequence of this, Newton proved the shell theorem for gravitational forces:

If an object lies outside a thin, uniform shell of mass, then the vector sum of all the gravitational forces exerted by all the parts of the shell is the same as if all the shell's mass was concentrated at its center. If the object lies inside the shell, then all the gravitational forces cancel out exactly.

Last Update: 2009-06-21