Glenbrook South Year-End Projects

The Physics of Planetary Motion

Basic Research Questions


Your role as researcher for this project involves acquiring a wealth of technical information about the variables which affect the motion of planets about the sun and the motion of other celestial bodies. The process of conducting a literature search should yield some basic information about the laws of planetary motion and the motion characteristics of orbitting planets. Some basic topics for research and ultimate discussion have been listed below to assist you in the initial stages of your literature search. The role of this listing is to provide an initial framework for your literature search and not a conclusive list of topics to be discussed. Your group is expected to go beyond these topics, exploring diverse areas of individual interest about sight and sound in nature.

  1. Identify the nine planets which orbit the sun and accumulate data relevant to each planet's orbit (e.g., planet mass, orbital radius, orbital speed, orbital period, etc.).
  2. Sketch the history of the efforts of scientists to understand the heavens and identify strategic individuals who made key contributions to our current understanding.
  3. State Kepler's three laws of planetary motion and explain how each law applies to the motion of planets about the Sun.
  4. Demonstrate the relationship between orbital period (T) and orbital radius (R) by using specific values for T and R for various planets in order to show the existing patterns.
  5. Compare and contrast the motion of planets to about the sun to uniform circular motion.
  6. State Newton's law of universal gravitation with both words and equations and show how the law can be used to determine the force of gravitational attraction between the sun and a given planet.
  7. Describe how Newton was able to convince the scientific world of the validity of the law of universal gravitation.
  8. Describe the motion characteristics of a planet in orbit about the sun using both words and vector diagrams, giving particular attention to the relative magnitude and the direction of the velocity, acceleration, and net force vector.
  9. Find (or develop) an equation which describes the variables which effect the velocity of an orbitting planet.
  10. Describe the efforts of space scientists to navigate satellites and to conduct space missions in such a manner as to investigate the nature of our solar system.
  11. Discuss the origin of such celestial bodies as asteroids and comets and describe the variables which would effect their entry into and motion through and within our solar system.
  12. Discuss Einstein's conception of gravitation and the curvature of space and contrast them with traditional Newtonian ideas about gravitation.
  13. Discuss the scope and magnitude of our cosmos and investigate some current findings of astronomers regarding such cosmic phenomenon as white dwarfs, black holes, supernovas, etc.
  14. Discuss the methods, procedures, and instruments used by scientists to explore our cosmos.


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The GBS Physics staff invite you to send electronic mail:

Tom Henderson

Howard Jenewein

John Lewis

Neil Schmidgall

Dave Smith

Suzanne Webb

Brian Wegley

Questions and comments can be sent to Tom Henderson.

This page last updated on 2/22/98.