Lectures on Physics has been derived from Benjamin Crowell's Light and Matter series of free introductory textbooks on physics. See the editorial for more information....

Reduction in gravity on Io due to Jupiter’s gravity

Question: The average gravitational field on Jupiter's moon Io is 1.81 N/kg. By how much is this reduced when Jupiter is directly yoverhead? Io's orbit has a radius of 4.22x108 m, and Jupiter's smass is 1.899x1027 kg.


By the shell theorem, we can treat Jupiter as if its mass was all concentrated at its center, and likewise for Io. If we visit Io and land at the point where Jupiter is overhead, we are on the same line as these two centers, so the whole problem can be treated one-dimensionally, and vector addition is just like scalar addition. Let's use positive numbers for downward fields (toward the center of Io) and negative for upward ones. Plugging the appropriate data into the expression GM / r2 derived in the previous example, we find that Jupiter's contribution to the field is -0.71 N/kg. Superposition says that we can find the actual gravitational field by adding up the fields created by Io and Jupiter: 1.81- 0.71=1.1 N/kg.

You might think that this reduction would create some spectacular effects, and make Io an exciting tourist destination. Actually you would not detect any difference if you flew from one side of Io to the other. This is because your body and Io both experience Jupiter's gravity, so you follow the same orbital curve through the space around Jupiter.

Last Update: 2009-06-21