# Dot product in the Gravitational Potential Energy formula

• sawer
In summary: If r vector's direction is form infinity to r,This doesn't make sense.F points towards the origin, and the unit vector r points away. So F is some negative scalar multiple of the unit vector r. It has nothing to do with the dot product. The sign is in the force law itself.The r vector has a direction opposite to that of the force because the force is from the mass to the origin.
sawer
This is the gravitational potential energy formula
$$U = -\int_\infty^r\vec{F}_\text{field}\cdot d\vec{r}$$
If r vector's direction is form infinity to r, then it means it has same direction as Gravitational Force. So cos0=1
But after multiplication there is a negative sign here: "-GMm"

$$U = -\int_\infty^r \frac{-GMm}{r^2} dr$$

Why is there a negative sign here(before GMm)? Doesn't gravitational force vector and r vector(from infinity to r) have same direction?

Let name a force F, we can express it a gradient of some potential Φ
Mathematically : F = ∇Φ
Gravity is an attractive force, it's tends pull and bring you to itself, but that mean F = - ∇Φ, if you consider a force field that is pushing you away, then you can say that F = ∇Φ,
The minus sign just tells that the force increase whenever the potential decreases .

Noctisdark said:
Let name a force F, we can express it a gradient of some potential Φ
Mathematically : F = ∇Φ
Gravity is an attractive force, it's tends pull and bring you to itself, but that mean F = - ∇Φ, if you consider a force field that is pushing you away, then you can say that F = ∇Φ,
The minus sign just tells that the force increase whenever the potential decreases .

Thanks but I am not talking about the negative sign before the integral.

I am asking the negative sign that was added after that operation: $$\vec{F}_\text{field}\cdot d\vec{r}$$

Here F is gravitational force, right? So it must be toward the origin, so is r vector, right? So the angle is 0. And there mustn't be a negative sign there. But there is.

Why is negative sign added there?

Noctisdark
The r vector is not "from infinity to r". (whatever that means).
It is from the origin to the given point. If you write the gravitational force as you did, the origin is at the center of a spherical body or at a point mass.
The r vector has a direction opposite to that of the force.
.

sawer said:
Thanks but I am not talking about the negative sign before the integral.

I am asking the negative sign that was added after that operation: $$\vec{F}_\text{field}\cdot d\vec{r}$$

Here F is gravitational force, right? So it must be toward the origin, so is r vector, right? So the angle is 0. And there mustn't be a negative sign there. But there is.

Why is negative sign added there?
Because F = -GMm/r^2, the direction of force is opposite to the direction the angle isn't 0 it's pi (180 degree )

nasu said:
The r vector is not "from infinity to r". (whatever that means).
It is from the origin to the given point. If you write the gravitational force as you did, the origin is at the center of a spherical body or at a point mass.
The r vector has a direction opposite to that of the force.
.
I am confused here.

dr is a differential displacement vector and it shows direction of movement right?

So we set infinity to zero potential, make calculations from infinity to point r. Here we are bringing the object from infinity to point r. So r vector is from infinity to point r. Gravitational force vector is also toward origin. So displacement and force vectors have same direction.

Why did you say: "The r vector has a direction opposite to that of the force"?

Because it does. The r vector is from origin to the mass. The force is from the mass to the origin, the mass is attracted to the origin. This is for the vector r.

.

sawer said:
Why did you say: "The r vector has a direction opposite to that of the force"?
Look at what nasu just said !

sawer said:
Here F is gravitational force, right? So it must be toward the origin, so is r vector, right?
F points towards the origin, and the unit vector r points away. So F is some negative scalar multiple of the unit vector r. It has nothing to do with the dot product. The sign is in the force law itself.

sawer said:
If r vector's direction is form infinity to r,
This doesn't make sense.

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DaleSpam said:
F points towards the origin, and the unit vector r points away. So F is some negative scalar multiple of the unit vector r. It has nothing to do with the dot product. The sign is in the force law itself.
As you answered my other thread, there mustn't be any sign there. Because it is "magnitude" of the gravitational force. I think there is no unit vector there. It must be displacement vector.

And I still don't understand, if we integrate from infinity to r point which means bringing object from infinity to point r, how does displacement vector r points from origin to point r, not from infinity to point r?

theodoros.mihos said:
I think there is a confuse point here: r direction is indipended from integral direction because comes form coordinates system but integral limits are from initial to final position.
Then why is r called "displacement vector"?

You are right but displacement mean:
$$\delta{\mathbf{r}} = \mathbf{r}_f - \mathbf{r}_i$$
rf and ri are parallel for direct central movement.

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I looked up Halliday's Fundamentals of Physics book, in section 13-6, he called r as a displacement vector.

He gave an example about shooting a baseball directly away from Earth and integrate from R to infinity(not infinity to R) and said: "The integral contains the scalar (or dot) product of the force F(r) and the differential displacement vector dr along the ball’s path" and integrate
$$\vec{F}_\text{r}\cdot d\vec{r}$$= F(r)drcosϕ

where ϕ is the angle between the directions of F(r) and dr. When we substitute 180° for ϕ"

Why did he say this?

Because F is toward Earth and dr is directed away from earth. So F and r vectors have opposite direction.

But here, F is gravitational force so, it is directed to Earth and the ball is bringing from infinity to point R but according to examples dr is still pointing infinity from earth.

See what does vector minus vector mean:
$$\mathbf{A}-\mathbf{B} = \mathbf{A} + (-\mathbf{B})$$ is another vector than starts from the end of B and end to the end of A.

sawer said:
This is the gravitational potential energy formula
$$U = -\int_\infty^r\vec{F}_\text{field}\cdot d\vec{r}$$
If r vector's direction is form infinity to r, then it means it has same direction as Gravitational Force. So cos0=1

sawer said:
dr is a differential displacement vector and it shows direction of movement right?

I think there is a confusion in the use and/or interpretation of ##d\vec r## as an infinitesimal element of a directed path
and as an increment of the ##r##-coordinate. Let's use ##d\vec s## for the infinitesimal element of a path.

$$U = -\int_{P}^{Q}\vec{F}_\text{field}\cdot d\vec{s},$$
where ##P## is the start-point (which will be taken at infinite-radius from the origin) and ##Q## is the end-point (which will be taken at finite-radius ##R## from the origin.

Now let us evaluate this symbolic line-integral in polar-coordinates. Keeping only the radial-components (since ##\vec F## is radial),
$$U = -\int_{P}^{Q}\left(-\frac{GMm}{r}\hat r\right) \cdot \left( dr\ \hat r\right),$$
where I have left the endpoints of the path symbolic. Note the sense of the path to be taken hasn't been used at this point. Note: ##dr\ \hat r## is the direction of increasing-##r##.
Simplifying,
$$U = -\int_{P}^{Q}\left(-\frac{GMm}{r} dr\ \right),$$
Now, choosing ##P## and ##Q## according to the definition:
$$U = -\int_{r=\infty}^{r=R}\left(-\frac{GMm}{r} dr\ \right).$$

sawer
Thank you.
robphy said:
Note the sense of the path to be taken hasn't been used at this point. Note: ##dr\ \hat r## is the direction of increasing-##r##.
If we integrate from Q to P, will ##dr##'s direction change?

Can you please give more comment about transforming from ds to dr.

sawer said:
If we integrate from Q to P, will ##dr##'s direction change?
No, ##dr\ \hat r## (the direction of increasing r) always points radially outwards.
sawer said:
Can you please give more comment about transforming from ds to dr.
In polar coordinates, an infinitesimal displacement is ##d\vec s= dr\ \hat r+rd\theta\ \hat\theta##.

sawer
robphy said:
No, ##dr\ \hat r## (the direction of increasing r) always points radially outwards.
And Gravitational Force always points inwards. So for gravitational force, the result of dot multiplication is always negative. Then what is the point of dot multiplication.

How can we determine gravitational force make positive or negative work?

Thanks for help...

Gravitational potential energy is defined the way it is so that it can have real values. Radius = 0 cannot be used because at r=0, by the force formula, the force of gravity is infinite, and any object at a radius greater than zero would then have infinite potential energy relative to r=0. But at r=infinity, the force of gravity is zero and any object at a radius less than infinity can easily compute a real potential energy relative to infinite radius. This potential energy then has to be defined as negative so that when computing the potential energy difference between two radii, the higher radius will have a less negative potential energy and the difference in energy is positive when looking upward. So, it takes positive energy to climb upward.

Clearly the the work has to have the same magnitude but opposite signs when we switch the direction of travel (i.e. from P to Q versus from Q to P). In the work integral, we can accomplish this either by switching the limits of integration or by changing the sign on ##\hat r dr##. But if we do both of these, there is no net effect. The convention is to switch the limits of integration, because that is consistent with what we expect from ordinary single-variable integration. (At least, I think it's simply a convention in line integration. If someone can give a more substantial reason, I'd be happy to see it!)

sawer said:
As you answered my other thread, there mustn't be any sign there. Because it is "magnitude" of the gravitational force. I think there is no unit vector there. It must be displacement vector.
I think that you are getting confused here. To be clear, I will use ##\vec{x}## to denote a vector and denote its magnitude ##|\vec{x}|## and I use ##\hat{x}## to denote a unit vector defined such that ##|\hat{x}|=1##.

Now, when you write a vector in coordinates you write it as a sum of some basis vectors, like ##\vec{a} = a_x \hat{x} + a_y \hat{y} + a_z \hat{z}##, where the basis vectors are defined at each point as the unit vector in the direction of increasing coordinate. So ##\hat{x}## is the unit vector which points in the direction that the x coordinate increases (other coordinates held constant). Therefore in spherical coordinates the ##\hat{r}## vector points in the direction of increasing r coordinate, which is outwards, away from the origin.

Up to this point all of this is purely math, with no physics content. Now, suppose we have a central particle of mass ##M## located at the origin and a test particle of mass ##m## located at coordinates ##(r,\theta,\phi)## in a spherical coordinate system. From Newton's law of gravitation we know that the gravitational force is proportional to both ##M## and ##m## and inversely proportional to ##r^2##. We also know that the gravitational force is attractive, so the force on the test particle points inwards, towards the origin which is the opposite direction as ##\hat{r}##.

So, if we write the gravitational force on the test particle as ##\vec{F}=-G\frac{Mm}{r^2} \hat{r}## then we get a force that points in the correct direction, i.e. it attracts towards the origin. If we omit the negative sign then we would erroneously get ##\vec{F}## pointing in the same direction as ##\hat{r}## which is away from the origin, i.e. a repulsive force on the test mass.

The dot product doesn't even enter in yet. There is a negative in the gravitational force law itself, regardless of what you might calculate afterwards. You have to start with the correct force law, and only then can you begin to calculate correct quantities based on it. Is that clear?

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sawer
sawer said:
If r vector's direction is form infinity to r, then it means it has same direction as Gravitational Force. So cos0=1

Consider what would happen if you brought a test object from infinity to r and r had it's origin at infinity. First, let us dispense with the vector dot product business. Modelling the Earth as a sphere, (Which admittedly it isn't; but I believe you're are making the same assumption.), the central symmetry of the problem allows us to treat both as scalars. You must also realize that if you subtract any number (scalars now) from infinity the result is still infinity. That being the case, the displacement, - r = ∞ , and the integral over the displacement must be taken from infinity to infinity, so the potential is zero! Reductio ad absurdum, it makes no sense to employ the convention that vector r has its origin at infinity. But what does it mean when the origin is at the center of the force and the object is brought from infinity into a point at distance r from the center? In this case r is finite, so the value of the antiderivative of the force function at r is trivial to find. Technically, the value of the antiderivative at r= infinity is actually the limit of the antiderivative as r approaches infinity. That's not difficult in the case where the potential has r in its denominator; the potential goes to zero when r goes to infinity. So the problem can only be done, and done handily, when r = zero at the center of the sphere.

sawer

## What is the dot product in the Gravitational Potential Energy formula?

The dot product in the Gravitational Potential Energy formula is a mathematical operation used to calculate the work done by a force in moving an object in a particular direction. In the case of gravitational potential energy, the dot product is used to calculate the work done by the gravitational force in moving an object from one point to another.

## Why is the dot product used in the Gravitational Potential Energy formula?

The dot product is used in the Gravitational Potential Energy formula because it takes into account the direction of the force. Since the gravitational force acts in a specific direction, it is important to consider this direction in the calculation of work done.

## How is the dot product calculated in the Gravitational Potential Energy formula?

The dot product is calculated by multiplying the magnitude of the force acting on the object by the displacement of the object in the direction of the force. This can be written as P = F · d, where P is the potential energy, F is the force, and d is the displacement.

## What units are used for the dot product in the Gravitational Potential Energy formula?

The units for the dot product in the Gravitational Potential Energy formula are newton-meters (Nm) or joules (J). This is because the dot product is a type of work, which is measured in joules.

## Can the dot product be negative in the Gravitational Potential Energy formula?

Yes, the dot product can be negative in the Gravitational Potential Energy formula. This occurs when the force and displacement are in opposite directions. In this case, the work done by the force is negative, indicating that energy is being taken away from the system rather than added to it.

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