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Homework Help: Gravitational Potential Energy: Two Neutron Stars

  1. Jun 21, 2011 #1
    1. The problem statement, all variables and given/known data
    Deep in space, two neutron stars are separated (center-to-center) by a distance of 18 X 106 km apart. Neutron star A has a mass of 153 X 1028 kg and radius 52000 m while the neutron star B has a mass of 159 X 1028 kg and radius 72000 m. They are initially at rest with respect to each other.

    a) With respect to that rest frame, how fast are the stars moving when their separation has decreased to one-half its initial value

    b) How fast are each moving the instant before they collide?

    3. The attempt at a solution
    a) I set this up as follows.
    Uia + Uib = Kfa + kfb +Ufa + Ufb

    where U is potential energy and K is kinetic.

    So i get -2*Ma*Mb*G/R = .5Ma*Va^2 + .5Mb*Vb^2 - 2Ma*Mb*G/R/2

    Using conservation of momentum i get Ma*Va=Mb*Vb So Va=Mb*Vb/Ma
    sub that in the above equation and solve for Vb I end up with somthing like sqrt( 2*(-2Ma*Mb*G/R +2Ma*Mb*G/R/2) / (Mb^2/Ma + Mb) ) = Vb
    i get 105455 m/s and its wrong.
    btw i am using 18^9 m for radius

    for part b i would do a similar thing except set the radius for each equation equal to the radius for the planets for the final potential energy. I haven't tried this yet because if the first doesn't work I assume im doign it wrong.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 21, 2011 #2


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    Homework Helper

    You are wrong with the potential energy term: The stars interact and the potential energy of the whole system is just -G*Ma*Mb/R. Do not multiply by 2.

  4. Jun 21, 2011 #3
    OK thanks that did it.

    What i was doing was -G*Ma*Mb/R as the gravitation pot energy for star a then the same equation for star b, and since they are the same i just did 2* that. Im not really clear on why I wouldn't have to do that. Since both have potential energies due to the other don't they?
  5. Jun 21, 2011 #4


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    You would be right if there were two separate forces acting on both, for example from a third very big star. But they interact and there is a potential energy assigned to this interaction. Think: The potential energy is the negative of the work required to separate the stars from distance R to infinity. Pretend that one of them is fixed. You need GMaMb/R work to move one star to infinite distance from the fixed one, but then they are completely separated, there is no force between them any more.

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