Gravitational Fields (Edexcel International A Level Physics)

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Gravitational Fields

  • Generally, a force field is a region of space in which an object will experience a force
  • A gravitational field, therefore, is a region of space in which any object with mass experiences a gravitational force
  • The Sun, for example, creates a gravitational field around it
    • The Earth, which has mass, experiences the gravitational force due to the Sun
    • This gravitational force keeps the Earth in orbit around the Sun
  • Additional effects of the Moon and Sun's gravitational fields can be seen on Earth, such as the cause of tides

Direction of a Gravitational Field

  • The direction of a gravitational field can be represented as a vector, the direction of which must be determined by inspection
  • The direction of the vector shows the direction of the gravitational force that would be exerted on a mass if it was placed at that position in the field
  • These vectors are known as field lines (or 'lines of force'), which are represented by arrows
    • Therefore, gravitational field lines also show the direction of acceleration of a mass placed in the field
  • Gravitational field lines are therefore directed toward the centre of mass of a body
    • This is because the gravitational force is attractive
    • Therefore, masses always attract each other via the gravitational force
  • The gravitational field around a point mass will be radial in shape and the field lines will always point towards the centre of mass

Direction of a Force Field, downloadable AS & A Level Physics revision notes

The direction of the gravitational field is shown by the vector field lines

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