# Where does the energy of gravity come from?

• B
• lordoftheselands
In summary: I literally said that in the last part of my comment. Did you even read it?I did read it. And I don't think that the two body problem is easy or that a numerical solution exists. It's just a problem that needs solving. Do you think that the laws of nature preclude true statements about difficult solutions or numerical... something like that?I don't think that the laws of nature preclude any statements, but I do think that there are some difficult problems that have yet to be solved.In summary, the energy of gravity comes from the conversion of gravitational potential energy to kinetic energy.
lordoftheselands
Since gravity accelerate things (even with some people saying that it's not a force) there must be a consense that it adds energy to things. There are even hydroeletric power plants generating energy everywhere. So where does the energy of gravity come from? Is it spontaneous generation of energy?

PeroK
If I lift a thing up and drop it, then harvest the kinetic energy to do something, then the energy came from my muscles and was briefly stored as gravitational potential energy before being released and used. Hydro power stations use the Sun to lift water to the clouds which then falls as rain into the reservoirs, so they are an indirect form of solar power.

So it is always with any energy generation scheme that "uses" gravitational potential energy from something moving down. Look to whatever lifted the thing up in the first place.

Since this is in relativity (at time of writing) it's worth noting that conservation of energy doesn't necessarily apply in all spacetimes. It works in Eartylhbound situations, though.

DAH and topsquark
lordoftheselands said:
gravity accelerate things
No, it doesn't. Objects moving solely under the influence of gravity are in free fall, with zero proper acceleration.

lordoftheselands said:
there must be a consense that it adds energy to things
Not at all. For example, water flowing downhill is not gaining any energy in total. It is converting gravitational potential energy to kinetic energy.

Doutor, DAH, topsquark and 1 other person
PeterDonis said:
It is converting gravitational potential energy to kinetic energy.
I think that's what the OP was referring to. Had the earth not been there, the water wouldn't have any gravitational potential energy. Imagine an object outside the earth's gravitational field. It doesn't have any energy. But place it just inside the field and it now gains kinetic energy which it didn't have before.

Ah but wait. You have to move it to get it inside the field and in doing so, you give it kinetic energy. Still, it does speed up once it enters the field (assuming it gets closer to the earth), meaning there is a net gain of energy. And assuming conservation of energy holds true, this extra energy has to come from somewhere, in this case the earth's gravitational field.

One possible resolution to this problem is to say that the earth's gravitational field extends to infinity and thus the object was never outside it, and always had potential energy. However, this feels like cheating, and I can't help but wonder if there's a better resolution.

weirdoguy and PeroK
The initial gravitational potential energy of the universe comes from its creation, but a hydroelectric dam is a solar powered steam engine.

Wes Tausend
Feynstein100 said:
Imagine an object outside the earth's gravitational field.
Since the gravitational field extends to infinity, it's hard to imagine such a place.

Wes Tausend, vanhees71, Dale and 2 others
PeterDonis said:
No, it doesn't. Objects moving solely under the influence of gravity are in free fall, with zero proper acceleration.
Being "Objects" by definition "any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume", would that mean that you found an easy analytical solution to the two body problem in GR?

weirdoguy and PeroK
phinds said:
Since the gravitational field extends to infinity, it's hard to imagine such a place.
I literally said that in the last part of my comment. Did you even read it?

Wes Tausend
Feynstein100 said:
Imagine an object outside the earth's gravitational field. It doesn't have any energy. But place it just inside the field and it now gains kinetic energy which it didn't have before.
The gravitational field goes to infinity. There is no "outside" and no "just inside". All you can do is move from a region of one potential to a region of another potential.

Feynstein100 said:
Still, it does speed up once it enters the field (assuming it gets closer to the earth), meaning there is a net gain of energy.
No net gain of energy. There is a loss of PE and a conversion of that PE into the same amount of KE.

Feynstein100 said:
One possible resolution to this problem is to say that the earth's gravitational field extends to infinity and thus the object was never outside it, and always had potential energy. However, this feels like cheating
Do you think that you and the universe are childhood friends playing a game where you get some say in the rules? We have no say in the rules. And there is no possible way for the universe to “cheat” since the rules are just descriptions of whatever the universe does, so whatever it does is by definition a rule and not a cheat.

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DAH, russ_watters, Vanadium 50 and 1 other person
Lluis Olle said:
Being "Objects" by definition "any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume", would that mean that you found an easy analytical solution to the two body problem in GR?
Why should it be an easy analytical solution? Do you think that the laws of nature preclude true statements about difficult solutions or numerical solutions?

member 728827 and vanhees71
Feynstein100 said:
Had the earth not been there, the water wouldn't have any gravitational potential energy.
Not due to the earth, but the earth is not the only gravitating mass in the universe.

Feynstein100 said:
Imagine an object outside the earth's gravitational field.
There is no such place, strictly speaking. The earth's field gets weaker as you get farther away from it, but it never vanishes completely. In practical terms, we don't see this because there are other masses in the universe whose fields get much larger than the earth's at distances far enough away from the earth.

vanhees71
Dale said:
Do you think that you and the universe are childhood friends playing a game where you get some say in the rules?
There's always the Whistler quote "Two plus two continue to make four, despite the whine of the amateur for three or the cry of the critic for five."

Dale
Dale said:
Do you think that you and the universe are childhood friends playing a game where you get some say in the rules? We have no say in the rules. And there is no possible way for the universe to “cheat” since the rules are just descriptions of whatever the universe does, so whatever it does is by definition a rule and not a cheat.
Not quite what I hand in mind I simply meant that at this point, it feels like you're forcing the math to confirm your preconceived notions rather than seeing where it actually leads.

In particular, I find the notion of the gravitational field extending to infinity problematic because a) there are no infinities in real life, and b) it's too newtonian of a view. Perhaps the math is the same in GR, but I find the idea that a mass here can affect things on the other side of the universe to be completely antithetical to the concept of locality, on which SR and GR are based.

Motore, weirdoguy and PeroK
Feynstein100 said:
I simply meant that at this point, it feels like you're forcing the math to confirm your preconceived notions rather than seeing where it actually leads.
It's the maths that says the field extends to infinity. We didn't pull the notion out of nowhere.
Feynstein100 said:
there are no infinities in real life,
Prove it.
Feynstein100 said:
it's too newtonian of a view. Perhaps the math is the same in GR, but I find the idea that a mass here can affect things on the other side of the universe to be completely antithetical to the concept of locality, on which SR and GR are based.
I don't think you really understand what "locality" means in this context. And again, you're saying that the maths is inconsistent with the maths, which is obviously nonsense.

russ_watters and phinds
Feynstein100 said:
I find the idea that a mass here can affect things on the other side of the universe to be completely antithetical to the concept of locality, on which SR and GR are based.
That concept just means that interactions propagate at the speed of light. Changes in spacetime geometry due to changes in the configuration of masses meet that requirement in GR. There is no limit on the distance over which such changes can propagate.

Feynstein100 said:
it feels like you're forcing the math to confirm your preconceived notions rather than seeing where it actually leads
Well, yes. We force the math to conform to our experimental data. It isn’t the math “leading” anything. It is the data. We see what the universe actually does and then write the rules to reflect the facts.

Feynstein100 said:
it's too newtonian of a view.
GR contains Newtonian gravity. And far away from any mass is precisely where GR matches Newtonian gravity.

Although, in GR’s FLRW cosmology, energy is not conserved, but not for the reasons mentioned here. There is no “outside of the gravitational field” even there.

Feynstein100 said:
a) there are no infinities in real life
Amongst everything else, you are confusing two different ideas of infinite. You cannot have two points an infinite distance apart. But, there is no limit to the possible distance between two points.

Wes Tausend, martinbn, russ_watters and 1 other person
Feynstein100 said:
In particular, I find the notion of the gravitational field extending to infinity problematic because a) there are no infinities in real life, and b) it's too newtonian of a view.
”Extending to infinity” is indeed problematic, but the problem is in the very common but imprecise natural language wording. There’s no infinity involved when we state it differently: if the gravitational potential is non-zero at a finite distance ##R## from the gravitating body and ##\Delta R## is some small number, then the gravitational potential will be smaller but still non-zero at the finite distance ##R+\Delta R##.

Informally, there is no hard edge detectable even with arbitrarily precise instruments.

Wes Tausend
Dale said:
Why should it be an easy analytical solution? Do you think that the laws of nature preclude true statements about difficult solutions or numerical solutions?
You're absolutely right, as always.

I think I just "condensed" the remark too much.

What I tried to mean is that if "an object" (which let me say that in physical "terminology" would mean any object, even a piece of a neutron start so to speak), is in free fall and "proper acceleration" is zero (which for an "object" with a measurable size and volume I don't know very much what it means), then it follows a Geodesic trajectory.

Obviously I don't know, but I thought that to calculate a Geodesic from the GR equations is something "mechanical" (I would guess tedious), but easy in the sense that if you know what you're doing, you follow the recipe and you get that Geodesic trajectory.

Dale
Feynstein100 said:
Had the earth not been there, the water wouldn't have any gravitational potential energy.
On the contrary. When the earth is present, the water has less gravitational potential energy than with the earth absent.

Make sure that you are comparing apples with apples. Do not change the zero point of your potential energy calculation when you coallesce the Earth.

Ibix and Dale
There's always the Whistler quote "Two plus two continue to make four, despite the whine of the amateur for three or the cry of the critic for five."
Or the Python quote:

"...shalt thou count to [four], no more, no less. [Four] shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be [four]. [Five] shalt thou not count, neither count thou [three], excepting that thou then proceed to [four]. [Six] is right out.

Dale
lordoftheselands said:
Since gravity accelerate things (even with some people saying that it's not a force) there must be a consense that it adds energy to things. There are even hydroeletric power plants generating energy everywhere. So where does the energy of gravity come from? Is it spontaneous generation of energy?
I guess that it comes from the mass, as E=mc2 and such.

By the way, the other day I saw I video which was something like this: the same way that the binding energy from the proton-electron is part of the mass of one atom, the binding gravitational energy for two massive objects has in itself a mass, and that mass has been demonstrated to obey the strong equivalence principle up to a number of decimal places (in a nutshell, accelerates the same way as the other mass).

Wes Tausend
Lluis Olle said:
the other day I saw I video
Videos are usually not valid references here, but the only way we can know for sure is for you to give a link to it.

Lluis Olle said:
he binding gravitational energy for two massive objects has in itself a mass
A negative mass--it makes a negative contribution to the total mass of the system.

Lluis Olle said:
that mass has been demonstrated to obey the strong equivalence principle up to a number of decimal places
Yes.

Lluis Olle said:
I guess that it comes from the mass
Don't guess. When you are trying to help someone understand something here, you need to first understand it well enough yourself that you don't have to guess.

In fact this answer is not correct, as other posts in this thread will show.

Lluis Olle said:
Being "Objects" by definition "any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume"
No, that's not what "objects" meant in the statement of mine that you quoted.

Lluis Olle said:
would that mean that you found an easy analytical solution to the two body problem in GR?
No, because "objects" in the statement of mine that you quoted has a much more limited meaning than you think.

Lluis Olle said:
if "an object" (which let me say that in physical "terminology" would mean any object, even a piece of a neutron start so to speak), is in free fall and "proper acceleration" is zero (which for an "object" with a measurable size and volume I don't know very much what it means), then it follows a Geodesic trajectory.
This is only an exact statement for test objects, but test objects by definition have zero effect on the spacetime geometry. So they are not "bodies" in the sense of finding a solution to the "two-body problem".

There has been considerable theoretical work on the topic of how good an approximation it is to assume that objects which are not test objects (i.e., which have non-negligible effects on the spacetime geometry), but which have masses that are much smaller than some central mass they are orbiting--for example, the Earth orbiting the Sun--follow geodesic trajectories in the spacetime geometry due to the central mass--for example, just considering the spacetime geometry due to the Sun without taking into account any effects on the spacetime geometry due to the Earth itself. We have had some previous PF threads on this, but it's been a while. Empirically, this does indeed seem to be a pretty good approximation in many cases. But it still has nothing to do with solving the "two-body problem", since the whole point of the approximation is to eliminate all but one of the "bodies" when calculating what the spacetime geometry is.

Lluis Olle said:
Obviously I don't know, but I thought that to calculate a Geodesic from the GR equations is something "mechanical" (I would guess tedious), but easy in the sense that if you know what you're doing, you follow the recipe and you get that Geodesic trajectory.
It is if you know the spacetime geometry. But obtaining the spacetime geometry is precisely the part that, for more than one body in GR, has not been solved analytically.

PeroK
PeterDonis said:
Videos are usually not valid references here, but the only way we can know for sure is for you to give a link to it.
The referenced video is in Spanish. Talks about the retroreflectors left in the Moon, and how they where used to check for the strong equivalence in GR.

PeterDonis said:
In fact this answer is not correct, as other posts in this thread will show.
The concept of "the energy of gravity" is a little bit ambiguous, but don't tell me is that is not mass related!

Lluis Olle said:
but don't tell me is that is not mass related!
No one is trying to tell you that . What they are saying is that "It comes from the mass" is incorrect, which shouldn't surprise you as you were uncertain enough to preface that statement with "I guess"

Lluis Olle said:
The referenced video is in Spanish.
Even in English it would probably not be the best reference to give. See below for better ones. It only took me a few minutes of web searching to find the references below; that is something you could (and should) have done.

Lluis Olle said:
Talks about the retroreflectors left in the Moon, and how they where used to check for the strong equivalence in GR.
This is the Lunar Laser Ranging experiment. The Wikipedia article gives a reasonable overview and a good number of references:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_Laser_Ranging_experiment

This appears to be a good paper on the use of lunar laser ranging to test the equivalence principle:

https://arxiv.org/pdf/gr-qc/0507083.pdf

The OP seems to have departed, and he seems to have a history of doing so. (Looking at past threads) Looking at those self-same threads, I suggest that the thread be relabeled as B-level.

The thread has been taken a little off-track by someone trying to help the OP, but not entirely sure. In this case, it really is best to check things out before posting. If questions remain, you can always start a new thread.

Now, a question for the OP (if he's still around). Why do you think this is a relativity question? Why and how do you think the answer is different in Newtonian gravity? And if the answer is "they are the same", we shuld probably answer this classically and not drag the additional compications of relativity into it.

Motore and Dale
I suggest that the thread be relabeled as B-level.
Fair point. Done.

Feynstein100 said:
In particular, I find the notion of the gravitational field extending to infinity problematic because a) there are no infinities in real life...
[prior post]
Imagine an object outside the earth's gravitational field. It doesn't have any energy.
Note that the concept of gravitational potential energy doesn't really require gravitational force extending to infinity. It's just the integral of gravitational force with distance, and if that force ever drops to zero a million light years away or whatever, it has basically no impact on the gravitational potential energy (it would be too small of a deviation to be noticeable). So even if the first sentence of that prior post were true, the second still wouldn't be.

Dale
russ_watters said:
Note that the concept of gravitational potential energy doesn't really require gravitational force extending to infinity. It's just the integral of gravitational force with distance
Since this thread was posted in the relativity forum, it should be noted that this is not quite how things work in relativity. The statement of Feynstein100 that you quoted can certainly be criticized (and I and others have done so elsewhere in this thread), but I'm not sure trying to do so along these particular lines will work.

russ_watters
russ_watters said:
So even if the first sentence of that prior post were true, the second still wouldn't be
That is a really good point. Even if we hypothesize a conservative force with a finite range, the region outside the force would be an equipotential region. The potential would be defined, even outside the finite range of the force.

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