Gravitational potential

(3.3) |

Now, the -component of this acceleration is written

(3.4) |

where and . However, as is easily demonstrated,

(3.5) |

Hence,

(3.6) |

with analogous expressions for and . It follows that

where

is termed the

It is well known that gravity is a superposable force. In other words, the gravitational force exerted on some point mass by a collection of other point masses is simply the vector sum of the forces exerted on the former mass by each of the latter masses taken in isolation. It follows that the gravitational potential generated by a collection of point masses at a certain location in space is the sum of the potentials generated at that location by each point mass taken in isolation. Hence, using Equation (3.8), if there are point masses, (for ), located at position vectors , then the gravitational potential generated at position vector is simply

Suppose, finally, that, instead of having a collection of point masses, we have a continuous mass distribution. In other words, let the mass at position vector be , where is the local mass density, and a volume element. Summing over all space, and taking the limit , we find that Equation (3.9) yields

where the integral is taken over all space. This is the general expression for the gravitational potential, , generated by a continuous mass distribution, .