Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Surface gravity

Surface gravity

Overview
The surface gravity, g, of an astronomical
Astronomical object
Astronomical objects or celestial objects are naturally occurring physical entities, associations or structures that current science has demonstrated to exist in the observable universe. The term astronomical object is sometimes used interchangeably with astronomical body...

 or other object is the gravitational acceleration
Gravitational acceleration
In physics, gravitational acceleration is the acceleration on an object caused by gravity. Neglecting friction such as air resistance, all small bodies accelerate in a gravitational field at the same rate relative to the center of mass....

 experienced at its surface. The surface gravity may be thought of as the acceleration due to gravity experienced by a hypothetical test particle which is very close to the object's surface and which, in order not to disturb the system, has negligible mass.

Surface gravity is measured in units of acceleration
Acceleration
In physics, acceleration is the rate of change of velocity with time. In one dimension, acceleration is the rate at which something speeds up or slows down. However, since velocity is a vector, acceleration describes the rate of change of both the magnitude and the direction of velocity. ...

, which, in the SI system, are meters per second squared
Metre per second squared
The metre per second squared is the unit of acceleration in the International System of Units . As a derived unit it is composed from the SI base units of length, the metre, and the standard unit of time, the second...

.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Surface gravity'
Start a new discussion about 'Surface gravity'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
The surface gravity, g, of an astronomical
Astronomical object
Astronomical objects or celestial objects are naturally occurring physical entities, associations or structures that current science has demonstrated to exist in the observable universe. The term astronomical object is sometimes used interchangeably with astronomical body...

 or other object is the gravitational acceleration
Gravitational acceleration
In physics, gravitational acceleration is the acceleration on an object caused by gravity. Neglecting friction such as air resistance, all small bodies accelerate in a gravitational field at the same rate relative to the center of mass....

 experienced at its surface. The surface gravity may be thought of as the acceleration due to gravity experienced by a hypothetical test particle which is very close to the object's surface and which, in order not to disturb the system, has negligible mass.

Surface gravity is measured in units of acceleration
Acceleration
In physics, acceleration is the rate of change of velocity with time. In one dimension, acceleration is the rate at which something speeds up or slows down. However, since velocity is a vector, acceleration describes the rate of change of both the magnitude and the direction of velocity. ...

, which, in the SI system, are meters per second squared
Metre per second squared
The metre per second squared is the unit of acceleration in the International System of Units . As a derived unit it is composed from the SI base units of length, the metre, and the standard unit of time, the second...

. It may also be expressed as a multiple of the Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

's standard surface gravity
Standard gravity
Standard gravity, or standard acceleration due to free fall, usually denoted by g0 or gn, is the nominal acceleration of an object in a vacuum near the surface of the Earth. It is defined as precisely , or about...

, g = 9.80665 m/s2. In astrophysics
Astrophysics
Astrophysics is the branch of astronomy that deals with the physics of the universe, including the physical properties of celestial objects, as well as their interactions and behavior...

, the surface gravity may be expressed as log g, which is obtained by first expressing the gravity in cgs units, where the unit of acceleration is centimeters per second squared, and then taking the base 10 logarithm
Logarithm
The logarithm of a number is the exponent by which another fixed value, the base, has to be raised to produce that number. For example, the logarithm of 1000 to base 10 is 3, because 1000 is 10 to the power 3: More generally, if x = by, then y is the logarithm of x to base b, and is written...

.

The surface gravity of a white dwarf
White dwarf
A white dwarf, also called a degenerate dwarf, is a small star composed mostly of electron-degenerate matter. They are very dense; a white dwarf's mass is comparable to that of the Sun and its volume is comparable to that of the Earth. Its faint luminosity comes from the emission of stored...

 is very high, and of a neutron star
Neutron star
A neutron star is a type of stellar remnant that can result from the gravitational collapse of a massive star during a Type II, Type Ib or Type Ic supernova event. Such stars are composed almost entirely of neutrons, which are subatomic particles without electrical charge and with a slightly larger...

 even more. The neutron star's compactness gives it a surface gravity of up to 7 m/s² with typical values of a few m/s² (that is more than 1011 times of that of Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

). One measure of such immense gravity is the fact that neutron stars have an escape velocity
Escape velocity
In physics, escape velocity is the speed at which the kinetic energy plus the gravitational potential energy of an object is zero gravitational potential energy is negative since gravity is an attractive force and the potential is defined to be zero at infinity...

 of around 100,000 km/s, about 33% of the speed of light
Speed of light
The speed of light in vacuum, usually denoted by c, is a physical constant important in many areas of physics. Its value is 299,792,458 metres per second, a figure that is exact since the length of the metre is defined from this constant and the international standard for time...

.

Mass, radius and surface gravity


In the Newtonian theory of gravity, the gravitational force exerted by an object is proportional to its mass: an object with twice the mass produces twice as much force. Newtonian gravity also follows an inverse square law, so that moving an object twice as far away divides its gravitational force by four, and moving it ten times as far away divides it by 100. This is similar to the intensity of light
Light
Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the human eye, and is responsible for the sense of sight. Visible light has wavelength in a range from about 380 nanometres to about 740 nm, with a frequency range of about 405 THz to 790 THz...

, which also follows an inverse square law: lights far away give the observer less light.

A large object, such as a planet
Planet
A planet is a celestial body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.The term planet is ancient, with ties to history, science,...

 or star
Star
A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

, will usually be approximately round, approaching hydrostatic equilibrium
Hydrostatic equilibrium
Hydrostatic equilibrium or hydrostatic balance is the condition in fluid mechanics where a volume of a fluid is at rest or at constant velocity. This occurs when compression due to gravity is balanced by a pressure gradient force...

 (where all points on the surface have the same amount of gravitational potential energy). On a small scale, higher parts of the terrain are eroded, with eroded material deposited in lower parts of the terrain. On a large scale, the planet or star itself deforms until equilibrium is reached. For most celestial objects, the result is that the planet or star in question can be treated as a near-perfect sphere
Sphere
A sphere is a perfectly round geometrical object in three-dimensional space, such as the shape of a round ball. Like a circle in two dimensions, a perfect sphere is completely symmetrical around its center, with all points on the surface lying the same distance r from the center point...

 (with rotation making it a slightly oblate spheroid).

The fact that large celestial objects are approximately spheres makes it easier to calculate their surface gravity. The gravitational force outside a spherically symmetric body is the same as if its entire mass were concentrated in the center, as was established by Sir Isaac Newton. Therefore, the surface gravity of a planet
Planet
A planet is a celestial body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.The term planet is ancient, with ties to history, science,...

 or star
Star
A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

 with a given mass will be approximately inversely proportional to the square of its radius
Radius
In classical geometry, a radius of a circle or sphere is any line segment from its center to its perimeter. By extension, the radius of a circle or sphere is the length of any such segment, which is half the diameter. If the object does not have an obvious center, the term may refer to its...

, and the surface gravity of a planet or star with a given average density will be approximately proportional to its radius. For example, the recently-discovered planet
Planet
A planet is a celestial body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.The term planet is ancient, with ties to history, science,...

, Gliese 581 c
Gliese 581 c
Gliese 581 c or Gl 581 c is a planet orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581. It is the second planet discovered in the system and the third in order from the star. With a mass at least 5.6 times that of the Earth, it is classified as a super-Earth...

, has at least 5 times the mass of Earth, but is unlikely to have 5 times its surface gravity. If its mass is no more than 5 times that of the Earth, as is expected, and if it is a rocky planet with a large iron core, it should have a radius approximately 50% larger than that of Earth. Gravity on such a planet's surface would be approximately 2.2 times as strong as on Earth. If it is an icy or watery planet, its radius might be as large as twice the Earth's, in which case its surface gravity might be no more than 1.25 times as strong as the Earth's.

These proportionalities may be expressed by the formula g = m/r2, where g is the surface gravity of an object, expressed as a multiple of the Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

's, m is its mass, expressed as a multiple of the Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

's mass (5.976·1024 kg
Kilogram
The kilogram or kilogramme , also known as the kilo, is the base unit of mass in the International System of Units and is defined as being equal to the mass of the International Prototype Kilogram , which is almost exactly equal to the mass of one liter of water...

) and r its radius, expressed as a multiple of the Earth's (mean) radius (6,371 km). For instance, Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

 has a mass of 6.4185·1023 kg
Kilogram
The kilogram or kilogramme , also known as the kilo, is the base unit of mass in the International System of Units and is defined as being equal to the mass of the International Prototype Kilogram , which is almost exactly equal to the mass of one liter of water...

 = 0.107 Earth masses and a mean radius of 3,390 km = 0.532 Earth radii. The surface gravity of Mars is therefore approximately
times that of Earth. Without using the Earth as a reference body, the surface gravity may also be calculated directly from Newton's Law of Gravitation, which gives the formula
where M is the mass of the object, r is its radius, and G is the gravitational constant
Gravitational constant
The gravitational constant, denoted G, is an empirical physical constant involved in the calculation of the gravitational attraction between objects with mass. It appears in Newton's law of universal gravitation and in Einstein's theory of general relativity. It is also known as the universal...

.
If we let ρ = m/V denote the mean density
Density
The mass density or density of a material is defined as its mass per unit volume. The symbol most often used for density is ρ . In some cases , density is also defined as its weight per unit volume; although, this quantity is more properly called specific weight...

 of the object, we can also write this as
so that, for fixed mean density, the surface gravity g is proportional to the radius r.

Since gravity is inversely proportional to the square of the distance, a space station 100 miles above the Earth feels almost the same gravitational force as we do on the Earth's surface. The reason a space station does not plummet to the ground is not that it is not subject to gravity, but that it is in a free-fall
Free-fall
Free fall is any motion of a body where gravity is the only force acting upon it, at least initially. These conditions produce an inertial trajectory so long as gravity remains the only force. Since this definition does not specify velocity, it also applies to objects initially moving upward...

 orbit
Orbit
In physics, an orbit is the gravitationally curved path of an object around a point in space, for example the orbit of a planet around the center of a star system, such as the Solar System...

.

Non-spherically symmetric objects


Most real astronomical objects are not absolutely spherically symmetric. One reason for this is that they are often rotating, which means that they are affected by the combined effects of gravitational force and centrifugal force
Centrifugal force
Centrifugal force can generally be any force directed outward relative to some origin. More particularly, in classical mechanics, the centrifugal force is an outward force which arises when describing the motion of objects in a rotating reference frame...

. This causes stars and planets to be oblate, which means that their surface gravity is smaller at the equator than at the poles. This effect was exploited by Hal Clement
Hal Clement
Harry Clement Stubbs better known by the pen name Hal Clement, was an American science fiction writer and a leader of the hard science fiction subgenre.-Biography:...

 in his SF novel Mission of Gravity
Mission of Gravity
Mission of Gravity is a science fiction novel by Hal Clement. The novel was serialized in Astounding Science Fiction magazine in April–July 1953. Its first hardcover book publication was in 1954, and it was first published as a paperback book in 1958...

, dealing with a massive, fast-spinning planet where gravity was much higher at the poles than at the equator.

To the extent that an object's internal distribution of mass differs from a symmetric model, we may use the measured surface gravity to deduce things about the object's internal structure. This fact has been put to practical use since 1915–1916, when Roland Eötvös's torsion balance was used to prospect for oil
Oil
An oil is any substance that is liquid at ambient temperatures and does not mix with water but may mix with other oils and organic solvents. This general definition includes vegetable oils, volatile essential oils, petrochemical oils, and synthetic oils....

 near the city of Egbell (now Gbely
Gbely
Gbely is a town in the Skalica District, Trnava Region in western Slovakia, close to the Czech border.-History:The first written record about Gbely was in 1392. It gained town rights in the 16th–17th centuries...

, Slovakia
Slovakia
The Slovak Republic is a landlocked state in Central Europe. It has a population of over five million and an area of about . Slovakia is bordered by the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east and Hungary to the south...

.), p. 1663;, p. 223. In 1924, the torsion balance was used to locate the Nash Dome oil fields in Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

., p. 223.

It is sometimes useful to calculate the surface gravity of simple hypothetical objects which are not found in nature. The surface gravity of infinite planes, tubes, lines, hollow shells, cones, and even more unrealistic structures may be used to provide insights into the behavior of real structures.

Surface gravity of a black hole


In relativity, the Newtonian concept of acceleration turns out not to be clear cut. For a black hole, which can only be truly treated relativistically, one cannot define a surface gravity as the acceleration experienced by a test body at the object's surface. This is because the acceleration of a test body at the event horizon of a black hole turns out to be infinite in relativity. Because of this, a renormalized value is used that corresponds to the Newtonian value in the non-relativistic limit. The value used is generally the local proper acceleration (which diverges at the event horizon) multiplied by the gravitational redshift factor (which goes to zero at the event horizon). For the Schwarzschild case, this value is mathematically well behaved for all non-zero values of r and M.

When one talks about the surface gravity of a black hole, one is defining a notion that behaves analogously to the Newtonian surface gravity, but is not the same thing. In fact, the surface gravity of a general black hole is not well defined. However, one can define the surface gravity for a black hole whose event horizon is a Killing horizon.

The surface gravity of a static Killing horizon
Killing horizon
A Killing horizon is a null hypersurface on which there is a null Killing vector field .Associated to a Killing horizon is a geometrical quantity known as surface gravity, \kappa...

 is the acceleration, as exerted at infinity, needed to keep an object at the horizon. Mathematically, if is a suitably normalized Killing vector, then the surface gravity is defined by
,

where the equation is evaluated at the horizon. For a static and asymptotically flat spacetime, the normalization should be chosen so that as , and so that . For the Schwarzschild solution, we take to be the time translation Killing vector , and more generally for the Kerr-Newman solution we take , the linear combination of the time translation and axisymmetry Killing vectors which is null at the horizon, where is the angular velocity.

The Schwarzschild solution


Since is a Killing vector implies . In coordinates . Performing a coordinate change to the advanced Eddington-Finklestein coordinates causes the metric to take the form

Under a general change of coordinates the Killing vector transforms as giving the vectors and

Considering the b=v entry for gives the differential equation

Therefore the surface gravity for the Schwarzschild solution with mass is

The Kerr-Newman solution


The surface gravity for the Kerr-Newman solution is
,

where is the electric charge, is the angular momentum, we define to be the locations of the two horizons and .

Dynamical Black Holes


Surface gravity for stationary black holes is well defined. This is because all stationary black holes have a horizon that is Killing. Recently there has been a shift towards defining the surface gravity of dynamical black holes whose spacetime does not admit a Killing vector (field). Several definitions have been proposed over the years by various authors. As of current, there is no consensus or agreement of which definition, if any, is correct.

External links