Dealing with variable force

In summary, the problem involves two spheres with a mass of 1 kg and a radius of 1 meter, initially 10 meters apart in space, and the question is when will they make contact. Calculating the initial force using the gravity equation is straightforward, but as they move towards each other, their distance changes and the force acting on them increases. This involves calculus, and the simplest method would be to use Newton's second law and the distance function between the spheres. After setting up the equations and integrating, the solution is found to be 2,917,196 seconds.
  • #1
Firstly, I'd like to announce that this is not a homework question, it is an example of a problem I thought up to illustrate what I have trouble with:

Two spheres, each with a mass of 1 kg and a radius of 1 meter, lie in space. Their centers are 10 meters apart. When will they make contact?

Now obviously the initial force acting on each sphere is easily calculable from the gravity equation. But an infinitesmall period of time after they have moved towards each other, their distance apart will have changed, and the force acting on each sphere will increase. Not only are they accelerating towards each other because of gravity, but they are also increasing their acceleration as they get closer to each other.

I am sure calculus will be involved and that's fine. What's the simplest method that you would use to solve a problem where force changes with distance/time?

Thanks! - latest science and technology news stories on
  • #2
Well, you might do it like this:
Call the spheres A and B, and let the origin of the coordinate system lie at the midpoint of the line segment defined by their centres.
Calling the sphere centres' positions as functions of time [itex]x_{A}(t),x_{B}(t), x_{A}(0)=-5,x_{B}(0)=5[/tex], respectively, we define the distance function between them as:
[tex]D(t)=x_{B}(t)-x_{A(t), D(0)=D_{0}=10[/tex]

Setting up Newton's for both, we get, with unit masses:
[tex]\frac{d^{2}x_{A}}{dt^{2}}=\frac{G}{D^{2}}, \frac{d^{2}x_{B}}{dt^{2}}=-\frac{G}{D^{2}}[/tex]
whereby the equation for d(t) is readily derived:
[tex]\frac{d^{2}D}{dt^{2}=-\frac{2G}{D^{2}} (*)[/tex]

We assume that the initial velocities are 0, i.e, [tex]\frac{dD}{dt}\mid_{t=0}=0[/tex]

Let us multiply (*) with dD/dt:

Integrating both sides from t=0 to some arbitrary t-value, taking due notice of the initial conditions, yields:

multiplying with two, taking the square root and remembering that D(t) will be decreasing, we get the diff. eq:
This is a separable diff.eq; we write:

We now remember that when they spheres make contact, D(T)=2, where T is the time we're looking for!

Thus, we get the equation for T, integrating both sides:
[tex]\int_{10}^{2}\sqrt{\frac{D}{D_{0}-D}}dD=-\sqrt{\frac{4G}{D_{0}}T[/tex], or, equivalently:
[tex]T=\sqrt{\frac{D_{0}}{4G}}\int_{2}^{10}\sqrt{\frac{D}{D_{0}-D}}dD (**)[/tex]

In order to crack that integral, let us set:
Thus, [tex]dD=\frac{D_{0}2u}{(1+u^{2})^{2}}du[/tex]
The limits are [tex]D=10\to{u}=\infty,D=2\to{u}=\frac{1}{2}[/tex]
We thereby get the expression for T in u:

This can quite readily be solved by standard techniques.
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  • #3
I will guess 92,249.8 seconds from numerical integration.

edit: I left out a constant. I get 2,917,196 seconds.
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  • #4
Well, we can make it a bit more explicit than that, Bob S!

We have:
[tex]\int\frac{1}{1+u^{2}}du=\frac{u}{1+u^{2}}+\int\frac{2u^{2}}{(1+u^{2})^{2}}du[/tex], by doing integration by parts.
Therefore, we get:

whereby we get:

1. What is variable force?

Variable force is a force that changes in magnitude or direction over time or distance. It can be caused by various factors such as changes in speed, acceleration, or position.

2. How do scientists deal with variable force in experiments?

Scientists use mathematical models and experimental techniques to measure and account for variable forces in their experiments. This includes using sensors and data collection methods to accurately measure the force and its changes.

3. What are some common examples of variable force in everyday life?

Examples of variable force in everyday life include a person running, a car accelerating or decelerating, a ball being thrown, and a pendulum swinging back and forth. These all involve changes in force over time or distance.

4. How does understanding variable force benefit us?

Understanding variable force allows us to accurately predict and control the behavior of objects and systems. It also helps us design more efficient and effective machines and structures.

5. Can variable force be harmful?

Yes, in some cases, variable force can be harmful. For example, sudden changes in force can cause injury or damage to objects. It is important to understand and properly manage variable forces to ensure safety and prevent accidents.

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