Matter & Energy


Matter is composed of atoms or groups of atoms called molecules. The arrangement of particles in a material depends on the physical state of the substance. In a solid, particles form a compact structure that resists flow. Particles in a liquid have more energy than those in a solid. They can flow past one another, but they remain close. Particles in a gas have the most energy. They move rapidly and are separated from one another by relatively large distances.

Earth's Gravitation

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Gravitation plays a crucial role in most processes on the earth. The ocean tides are caused by the gravitational attraction of the moon and the sun on the earth and its oceans. Gravitation drives weather patterns by making cold air sink and displace less dense warm air, forcing the warm air to rise. The gravitational pull of the earth on all objects holds the objects to the surface of the earth. Without it, the spin of the earth would send them floating off into space.

The gravitational attraction of every bit of matter in the earth for every other bit of matter amounts to an inward pull that holds the earth together against the pressure forces tending to push it outward. Similarly, the inward pull of gravitation holds stars together. When a star's fuel nears depletion, the processes producing the outward pressure weaken and the inward pull of gravitation eventually compresses the star to a very compact size (see Star, Black Hole).

Acceleration

If an object held near the surface of the earth is released, it will fall and accelerate, or pick up speed, as it descends. This acceleration is caused by gravity, the force of attraction between the object and the earth. The force of gravity on an object is also called the object's weight. This force depends on the object's mass, or the amount of matter in the object. The weight of an object is equal to the mass of the object multiplied by the acceleration due to gravity.