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Big Ideas Of Science


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This lab shows a solar sail - a satellite or space probe that uses the radiation pressure of sunlight, reflecting from its sails, as its form of propulsion. The solar sail starts from rest at the same distance from the Sun that the Earth is. Use the sliders to adjust the mass of the solar sail and the length of each side of the sail, which we assume to be square.

The large yellow object is the Sun. The smaller blue object is the solar sail. The arrow attached to the solar sail represents the acceleration of the sail. The acceleration comes from the vector sum of the gravitational force the Sun exerts on the solar sail (that force is pointed toward the Sun), and the force associated with radiation pressure (that force points away from the Sun).

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