AQA GCSE Physics

Revision Notes

8.1.7 Non-Circular Orbits

Higher Tier Only

Non-Circular Orbits

Orbit of a Comet

  • The orbits of comets are very different to those of planets:
    • The orbits are highly elliptical (very stretched circles) or hyperbolic
    • This causes the speed of the comets to change significantly as its distance from the Sun changes
    • Not all comets orbit in the same plane as the planets and some don’t even orbit in the same direction

comet-orbit, IGCSE & GCSE Physics revision notes

Orbital path of a comet

  • As the comet approaches the Sun, it loses gravitational potential energy and gains kinetic energy
  • This causes the comet to speed up
  • This increase in speed causes a slingshot effect, and the body will be flung back out into space again, having passed around the Sun
  • As it moves away from the Sun the body will slow down, eventually finishing its orbit and falling back into towards the Sun once more
  • In this way, a stable orbit is formed

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Katie has always been passionate about the sciences, and completed a degree in Astrophysics at Sheffield University. She decided that she wanted to inspire other young people, so moved to Bristol to complete a PGCE in Secondary Science. She particularly loves creating fun and absorbing materials to help students achieve their exam potential.
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