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Homework Help: Differentiating Vectors

  1. Apr 13, 2016 #1
    1. The problem statement, all variables and given/known data
    I was reading about the Hermite integration scheme for N-body simulations, as seen here: http://www.artcompsci.org/kali/vol/two_body_problem_2/ch11.html#rdocsect76

    This scheme uses jerk, the time rate of change of acceleration. The problem is that I don't know how to correctly evaluate the derivative of the acceleration equation shown there.

    2. Relevant equations

    [tex] \vec{a} = \frac{GM}{r^2}\vec{\hat{r}} [/tex]
    [tex] \vec{j} = GM\left(\frac{\vec{v}}{r^3} - 3 \frac{(\vec{r} \cdot \vec{v})\vec{r}}{r^5}\right) [/tex]

    3. The attempt at a solution
    First I rewrote the unit vector in a to get:
    [tex]\vec{a}= \frac{GM\vec{r} }{r^3}[/tex]

    To differentiate, I applied the quotient rule:
    [tex]\frac{d\vec{a}}{dt} = GM\frac{r^3\frac{d\vec{r}}{dt} - \vec{r}\frac{dr^3}{dt}}{r^6} [/tex]

    The first term is obviously v/r^3, but the second term is where I'm confused. I can get the right answer by using the chain rule:

    [tex]\frac{\frac{dr^3}{dt}}{r^6} = \frac{3r^2\frac{d\vec{r}}{dt}}{r^6} = \frac{3\vec{r}\frac{d\vec{r}}{dt}}{r^5} = \frac{3(\vec{r}\cdot\vec{v})}{r^5}[/tex]

    but I'm just arbitrarily changing the scalar r into the vector r. What's the right way to do this step?
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2016
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 13, 2016 #2


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    The answer is correct, but the steps are all wrong: the first because it equates a scalar to a vector, the second because it contains a meaningless multiplication of two vectors, and the third because it then somehow gets back to a scalar quantity.
    Instead, keep the amounts as scalars all the way along. Start with:
    Then draw a diagram and try to express ##\frac{dr}{dt}## in terms of ##\vec v## and ##\vec r##. You may find it convenient to use ##\hat r##, the unit vector in the direction of ##\vec r##, along the way.
  4. Apr 14, 2016 #3
    Ok so, if we draw [itex]\vec{r} = r\hat{r}[/itex] on the plane, for instance, then the change in length will depend on which direction v is pointing. In the limit of a small time step dt, the change of length r is equal to v*dt*cos(θ), where θ is the angle between v and r. I.e.
    [tex]\frac{dr}{dt} = vcos\theta[/tex]

    So we pull one of the 'r's from in front to get r*v*cos(θ), which is indeed equal to the dot product r·v. The remaining r cancels one in the bottom to get the r^5 term.
  5. Apr 14, 2016 #4


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    Yes, that's it!
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