We would like our students to understand how the shape of the orbit depends on various physical parameters such as reduced mass or the z-component of angular momentum and how this shape can be predicted by an effective potential diagram. Students use Maple to generate plots of potential energy vs. distance and effective potential vs. distance. Students interpret these graphs to describe the motion of the orbiting object. Students can also vary the effective potential by changing the reduced mass, the force constant, the angular momentum, and the total energy of the system, and see how these parameters effect both the potential energy and the effective potential.

This activity works particularly well when sequenced with other activities.

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