The mathematics blog Scientific Finger Food has an interesting entry, “Weightlessness at the Equator (Whiteboard Sketch #1)”, which looks at the sort of question that’s easy to imagine when you’re young: since gravity pulls you to the center of the earth, and the earth’s spinning pushes you away (unless we’re speaking precisely, but you know what that means), so, how fast would the planet have to spin so that a person on the equator wouldn’t feel any weight?
It’s a straightforward problem, one a high school student ought to be able to do. Sebastian Templ works the problem out, though, including the all-important diagram that shows the important part, which is what calculation to do.
In reality, the answer doesn’t much matter since a planet spinning nearly fast enough to allow for weightlessness at the equator would be spinning so fast it couldn’t hold itself together, and a more advanced version of this problem could make use of that: given some measure of how strongly rock will hold itself together, what’s the fastest that the planet can spin before it falls apart? And a yet more advanced course might work out how other phenomena, such as tides or the precession of the poles might work. Eventually, one might go on to compose highly-regarded works of hard science fiction, if you’re willing to start from the questions easy to imagine when you’re young.
Especially on the equator, the centrifugal and the gravitational force are antagonistic forces: the one points “downwards” while the other points “upwards”.
How fast would the Earth have to spin in order to cause weightlessness at the…
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