From Moonfall to motions under inverse square laws
Abstract
The motion of two bodies, along a straight line, under the inverse square law of gravity is considered in detail, progressing from simpler cases to more complex ones: (a) one body fixed and one free, (b) both bodies free and identical mass, (c) both bodies free and different masses and (d) the inclusion of electrostatic forces for both bodies free and different masses. The equations of motion (EOM) are derived starting from Newton's second law or from conservation of energy. They are then reduced to dimensionless EOM using appropriate scales for time and distance. Solutions of the dimensionless EOM as well as the original EOM are given. The time interval for the bodies to fall is expressed as a function of the distance fallen. Formulae for the inverse were obtained. The coalescence times for the different cases are (a) t = \frac{\pi }{{2\sqrt 2 }}\sqrt {L^3 / ( {Gm_1 } )} where L is the initial separation of the two bodies and m_{1} is the mass of the fixed body, (b) and (c) t = \frac{\pi }{{2\sqrt 2 }}\sqrt {L^3 / ( {Gm_T } )} where m_{T} is the total mass of the two bodies and (d) t = \frac{\pi }{{2\sqrt 2 }}\sqrt {L^3 / [ {Gm_T ( {1  \Lambda } )} ]} where \Lambda = \frac{{kq_1 q_2 }}{{Gm_1 m_2 }} and is a measure of the ratio of the electrostatic force to gravity. The last formula may also be used when \Lambda \ge 1 with the interpretation that there is no collision if t is infinity or imaginary. We also discuss this motion along the straight line as a special case of the general elliptic motion of two bodies. I believe that this paper will be useful to university tutors as well as undergraduate and even graduate students who prefer to consider the special case before the general case, and their relationship.
 Publication:

European Journal of Physics
 Pub Date:
 September 2008
 DOI:
 10.1088/01430807/29/5/012
 Bibcode:
 2008EJPh...29..987F