Why Gravitational forces are important
gravitational forces are negligible between ordinary household-sized objects but very substantial between objects that are the size of stars. Indeed, gravitation is the most important force on the scale of planets, stars, and galaxies (Fig. 13.6). It is responsible for holding our earth together and for keeping the planets in orbit about the sun. The mutual gravitational attraction between different parts of the sun compresses material at the sun’s core to very high densities and temperatures, making it possible for nuclear reactions to take place there. These reactions generate the sun’s energy output, which makes it possible for life to exist on earth and for you to read these words.
The gravitational force is so important on the cosmic scale because it acts at a distance, without any direct contact between bodies. Electric and magnetic forces have this same remarkable property, but they are less important on astronomical scales because large accumulations of matter are electrically neutral; that is, they contain equal amounts of positive and negative charge. As a result, the electric and magnetic forces between stars or planets are very small or zero. The strong and weak interactions that we discussed in Section 5.5 also act at a distance, but their influence is negligible at distances much greater than the diameter of an atomic nucleus (about 10-14 m)
A useful way to describe forces that act at a distance is in terms of a field. One body sets up a disturbance or field at all points in space, and the force that acts on a second body at a particular point is its response to the first body’s field at that point. There is a field associated with each force that acts at a distance, and so we refer to gravitational fields, electric fields, magnetic fields, and so on. We won’t need the field concept for our study of gravitation in this chapter, so we won’t discuss it further here. But in later chapters we’ll find that the field concept is an extraordinarily powerful tool for describing electric and magnetic interactions.