The shell theorem states that:

A uniform spherical shell of matter attracts a particle that is outside the shell as if all the shells mass were concentrated at its center.

Now, I have to solve a problem related to this theorem. The statement of the problem is:

A particle is to be placed, in turn, outside four objects, each of mass $m$:

(1) a large uniform solid sphere,

(2) a large uniform spherical shell,

(3) a small uniform solid sphere, and

(4) a small uniform shell.

In each situation, the distance between the particle and the center of the object is $d$. Rank the objects according to the magnitude of the gravitational force they exert on the particle, greatest first.

As far as I understand this problem (or maybe I've not understood it yet) I think all of the objects should be ranked first. This is because, for the large uniform solid sphere if we imagine that its entire mass $m$ is concentrated at its center which is at a distance $d$ from the particle, then it will attract the particle with the magnitude $\frac{Gmm_0}{d^2}$ where $m_0$ is the mass of the particle. And, each of the other three objects' centers distance is $d$ from the particle, and each of their masses is $m$, so it seems to be the case that all of them gravitate the particle with the same magnitude.

Do the objects gravitate the particle with different magnitudes, and hence should be ranked differently? What is the reason behind it if so is the case?

  • $\begingroup$ What is the question? I see no ? $\endgroup$
    – jinawee
    Feb 23, 2014 at 19:27
  • $\begingroup$ I've added the question. $\endgroup$ Feb 23, 2014 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ You are correct. All four objects will produce the same gravitational force. $\endgroup$ Feb 23, 2014 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ @John Rennie Shouldn't the small uniform shell and small solid sphere exert less force? The distance stays the same, and assuming that uniform implies that all of the objects are made out of the same density then the thinner shell has less mass than the thicker shell. $\endgroup$ Feb 23, 2014 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ But, it is also stated that each of them has the same mass. $\endgroup$ Feb 23, 2014 at 20:15

1 Answer 1


You are correct - the force is constant in all four cases. Since each of the situations describes a "uniform spherical shell of matter," you can assume that the mass is concentrated at the center of that shell, as per the shell theorem cited.

If you've learned Gauss's Law for electric fields, it can be applied to this problem. Gravitational force, following the same inverse square relationship as the Coulomb force, also obeys Gauss's Law. Set up a spherical Gaussian surface concentric with the spherical shells and passing through the particle. The total gravitational flux through this surface is constant in all four cases, since the total mass enclosed is constant. Moreover, since each sphere is uniform, the gravitational force is evenly distributed across the surface. Therefore, the gravitational force on the particle is the same in all four cases.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.