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Science Physics Gravitational Acceleration

Solving for gravitational acceleration.
gravitational acceleration
Note: r must be greater than the radius of the planet
G is the universal gravitational constant
G = 6.6726 x 10-11N-m2/kg2


planet mass (M)
radius from the planet center (r)
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planet mass (M)
= 0
= 0
radius from the planet center (r)
= 0
= 0


gravitational acceleration (a)

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Newton's law of gravity
force between exerted between two objectsgravitational force exerted between two objects
mass of object 1mass of object 1
mass of object 2mass of object 2
distance between the objectsdistance between the objects
Kepler's third law
force between exerted between two objectssatellite orbit period
mass of object 1satellite mean orbital radius
mass of object 2planet mass
gravitational acceleration
gravitational accelerationgravitational acceleration
planet massplanet mass
radius from the planet centerradius from the planet center
escape or critical speed
escape or critical speedescape or critical speed
planet massplanet mass
planet radiusplanet radius

References - Books:
Tipler, Paul A.. 1995. Physics For Scientists and Engineers. Worth Publishers. 3rd ed.


Gravitational acceleration is a fundamental concept in physics that describes the force experienced by an object due to gravity. It measures how quickly an object falls toward the Earth under the influence of gravity.
Gravitational acceleration, often symbolized as "g," refers to an object's acceleration due to the gravitational force exerted by another entity, typically the Earth. As a vector quantity, gravitational acceleration possesses both magnitude and direction. The magnitude of gravitational acceleration is approximately 9.8 meters per second squared (m/s²) near the Earth's surface.


The formula for gravitational acceleration is derived from Newton's law of universal gravitation. Newton's law of universal gravitation states that the strength of attraction between two objects is proportional directly to the product of the masses and inversely to the square of the distance between them. Mathematically, the formula for gravitational acceleration is:
g = G * (M / r²)
  • g is the gravitational acceleration
  • G is the gravitational constant (approximately 6.674 × 10^-11 N(m/kg)²)
  • M represents the mass of the object that is exerting the gravitational force (e.g., the Earth)
  • r is the distance between the center of the object exerting the force and the center of the falling object

Factors Affecting Gravitational Acceleration

  • Mass of the Object: According to Newton's law of universal gravitation, gravitational acceleration is directly proportional to the object's mass exerting force. Therefore, an increase in mass leads to a proportional increase in gravitational acceleration.
  • Distance between Objects: Gravitational acceleration is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the centers of the objects. As the distance increases, the gravitational acceleration decreases. For example, an object on the Moon experiences weaker gravitational acceleration than the same object on Earth due to the more significant distance between the Moon and the object.
  • Ascent or Descent: Gravitational acceleration is typically used to describe the acceleration of an object falling towards a gravitational source, such as the Earth. In the case of an object ascending against gravity, the gravitational acceleration acts in the opposite direction and is often referred to as "negative" gravitational acceleration.


Gravitational acceleration can be measured using various experimental methods. One standard process involves using a free-falling object like a dropped ball or a pendulum. By measuring the time it takes for the object to fall a known distance, the gravitational acceleration can be calculated using the formula:
g = 2h / t²
  • g represents gravitational acceleration
  • h is the height or length fallen
  • t is the time taken to drop the distance
Another method involves using sophisticated instruments like gravimeters, which can directly measure gravitational acceleration with high precision.

Example Calculation:

To calculate the gravitational acceleration of an object near the surface of the Earth. We can use the formula:
g = G * (M / r²)
Given that the mass of the Earth (M) is approximately 5.972 × 10^24 kilograms and the radius of the Earth (r) is approximately 6,371 kilometers (6,371,000 meters), we can substitute these values into the formula:
g = (6.674 × 10^-11 N(m/kg)²) * (5.972 × 10^24 kg / (6,371,000 m)²)
First, we square the radius of the Earth:
g = (6.674 × 10^-11 N(m/kg)²) * (5.972 × 10^24 kg / 40,518,241,000,000 m²)
Next, we divide the mass of the Earth by the squared radius:
g = (6.674 × 10^-11 N(m/kg)²) * (1.477 × 10^11 kg/m²)
Finally, we multiply the gravitational constant by the result:
g = 9.832 m/s²
Therefore, the gravitational acceleration near the surface of the Earth is approximately 9.832 meters per second squared.

Common Errors and Mistakes:

  • Misuse of Units: One common error is mixing up the units or using the wrong units in equations. Ensuring that all values are in the correct units and consistent throughout the calculation is crucial.
  • Incorrect Input Values: Mistakes in entering or using wrong values for mass (M), distance (r), or the gravitational constant (G) can lead to incorrect results. Always double-check the input values to ensure accuracy.
  • Misunderstanding Negative Acceleration: Negative gravitational acceleration is often encountered when objects ascend against gravity. Understanding the concept and using the appropriate signs in calculations involving negative gravitational acceleration is essential.
  • Rounding Errors: Rounding calculations prematurely or using approximate values can introduce errors. It's usually best to calculate with sufficient precision and round the final result to the appropriate number of significant figures.
  • Forgetting to Consider Other Factors: Gravitational acceleration is primarily influenced by mass and distance. However, other factors like the rotation of the Earth and elevation can also play a role. It's essential to consider these additional factors when applicable for more accurate calculations.

Applications and Fields:

  • Astronomy: Gravitational acceleration is crucial in studying the motion of celestial bodies and understanding the formation and behavior of galaxies, stars, and planets.
  • Astrophysics: Gravitational acceleration is crucial in studying astronomical characteristics, such as the motion of celestial bodies, star formation, and black holes.
  • Physics and Mechanics: Gravitational acceleration is crucial in understanding free-fall, projectile motion, and orbits. It helps analyze the trajectory and velocity of objects under gravitational influence.
  • Geophysics: Gravitational acceleration helps study Earth's structure and properties, such as determining subsurface density variations or calculating the Earth's gravitational field.
  • Aviation and Aerospace: Understanding gravitational acceleration is vital for the design and operation of aircraft, spacecraft, and satellites, as it affects trajectories, orbital mechanics, and mission planning.
  • Geodesy: Gravitational acceleration is critical for geodetic measurements, including precise positioning, leveling, and determining the Earth's shape and gravity field.
  • Geology: Gravitational acceleration is considered in geophysical surveys to investigate underground structures, rock densities, and potential mineral deposits.
  • Civil Engineering Engineering and Architecture: Gravitational acceleration is considered when designing structures, such as tall buildings and bridges, to ensure stability and safety. Gravitational acceleration is necessary for creating bridges, buildings, and dams, as it influences their stability and load-bearing capacity.
  • Oceanography: Gravitational acceleration helps study tides, sea-level changes, oceanic currents, and the dynamics of waves and fluid motion in the oceans.
  • Archaeology: Gravitational acceleration is employed in archaeological prospection techniques such as gravimetry to detect buried structures or archaeological remains based on density variations.
  • Sports and Athletics: Gravitational acceleration affects performance in sports, such as determining the trajectory of projectiles like a football or calculating the optimum angle for a long jump.
  • Space Exploration: Understanding gravitational acceleration is vital for space missions, as it affects rocket trajectories, satellite orbits, and interplanetary travel.

Frequently Asked Questions:

  • What is gravitational acceleration? Gravitational acceleration refers to the force of gravity acting on an object, causing it to accelerate towards a larger mass.
  • How is gravitational acceleration calculated? Gravitational acceleration can be calculated using Newton's law of universal gravitation, which involves the mass of the larger body and the distance between the objects.
  • What is the value of gravitational acceleration on Earth? The average gravitational acceleration on Earth is approximately 9.8 meters per second squared (m/s^2).
  • Does gravitational acceleration vary on different planets? Yes, gravitational acceleration varies on different planets and celestial bodies due to differences in their mass and radius.
  • Do objects fall at the same rate regardless of their mass? Yes, in the absence of air resistance, objects of different masses fall at the same rate: gravitational acceleration.
  • Does gravitational acceleration change with altitude? Gravitational acceleration decreases slightly with increasing altitude due to the increasing distance from Earth's center.
  • Does gravitational acceleration change with depth in the Earth? Gravitational acceleration increases with depth in the Earth due to the cumulative effect of the mass of the Earth above a given point.
  • What factors can affect gravitational acceleration? Gravitational acceleration is primarily influenced by the mass of the larger body and the distance between objects. Other factors like elevation, rotation, and nearby masses can also have minor effects.
  • Can gravitational acceleration be negative? Gravitational acceleration can be negative when an object ascends against gravity, such as during projectile motion or when measuring ascent speeds.
  • What are the practical applications of understanding gravitational acceleration? Gravitational acceleration is essential in space exploration, engineering, physics, and astronomy. It plays a role in designing vehicles, determining orbits, studying celestial bodies, and understanding the behavior of objects under gravity.
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