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Gravitational Potential Energy vs. Elastic Potential Energy: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on December 18, 2023
Gravitational potential energy is energy due to an object's position in a gravitational field, while elastic potential energy is stored in stretched or compressed materials.

Key Differences

Gravitational potential energy is the energy an object possesses due to its position relative to a gravitational field, typically associated with its height above the ground. Elastic potential energy, on the other hand, is the energy stored in objects as a result of deformation, such as stretching or compression, and is dependent on the material's properties and the extent of deformation.
The calculation of gravitational potential energy primarily involves the object's mass, the height from a reference point, and the gravitational constant. In contrast, elastic potential energy is calculated based on factors like the extent of stretch or compression and the stiffness of the material, described by Hooke's Law for elastic materials.
Gravitational potential energy is universally applicable to any object in a gravitational field and is independent of the object's material properties. Elastic potential energy, however, is specific to materials that can undergo elastic deformation and is not a factor in rigid bodies that do not deform.
In the context of energy transformation, gravitational potential energy is typically converted into kinetic energy as an object falls. Elastic potential energy, conversely, is often released as kinetic energy when the deforming force is removed, propelling the object back to its original shape.
The concept of gravitational potential energy is a fundamental aspect of celestial mechanics and astrophysics, influencing planetary motions and orbits. Elastic potential energy finds its critical applications in mechanical systems, such as springs, rubber bands, and even in biological systems like tendons and ligaments.

Comparison Chart


Position in gravitational field
Deformation of material


Mass, height, gravitational constant
Deformation extent, material stiffness


Universal for objects in gravity
Specific to elastic materials

Energy Conversion

Often converts to kinetic energy in free fall
Converts to kinetic energy upon release of deformation

Typical Applications

Celestial mechanics, astrophysics
Springs, rubber bands, biomechanics

Gravitational Potential Energy and Elastic Potential Energy Definitions

Gravitational Potential Energy

The work done against gravity to elevate an object.
Lifting a book onto a shelf stores gravitational potential energy in the book.

Elastic Potential Energy

The work done to deform a material capable of elastic recovery.
A squashed stress ball holds elastic potential energy.

Gravitational Potential Energy

Energy stored when objects are positioned in a gravitational field.
Water at the top of a dam holds a large amount of gravitational potential energy.

Elastic Potential Energy

Energy stored in stretched or compressed materials.
A stretched rubber band has elastic potential energy.

Gravitational Potential Energy

Energy an object has due to its position above the Earth.
A rock perched on a cliff has gravitational potential energy.

Elastic Potential Energy

The potential energy of an object when deformed elastically.
A compressed spring in a toy car stores elastic potential energy.

Gravitational Potential Energy

Potential energy related to an object's height and mass.
A suspended wrecking ball possesses significant gravitational potential energy.

Elastic Potential Energy

Energy due to the deformation of an elastic object.
A drawn bow possesses elastic potential energy.

Gravitational Potential Energy

The potential for an object to do work due to gravity.
A diver at a high dive's edge has gravitational potential energy.

Elastic Potential Energy

The energy held in materials returning to their original shape.
A trampoline's surface stores elastic potential energy when depressed.


Can gravitational potential energy be negative?

Yes, depending on the reference level chosen, it can be negative.

Is gravitational potential energy a form of kinetic energy?

No, it's a form of potential energy, distinct from kinetic energy.

What is an example of elastic potential energy?

A stretched spring in a pinball machine.

What is an example of gravitational potential energy in daily life?

A child at the top of a slide has gravitational potential energy.

Does elastic potential energy always require an external force?

Yes, to deform the elastic material initially.

What determines the amount of gravitational potential energy?

It's determined by an object's mass, height above a reference point, and the gravitational field strength.

Does gravitational potential energy depend on the path taken?

No, it only depends on the initial and final positions.

Can elastic potential energy be converted to other forms of energy?

Yes, commonly to kinetic energy when the material recoils.

What factors affect the amount of elastic potential energy stored?

The extent of deformation and the material's stiffness.

How does mass affect gravitational potential energy?

The greater the mass, the higher the gravitational potential energy, assuming the same height.

How is gravitational potential energy used in engineering?

It's crucial in designing structures like dams and roller coasters.

Can gravitational potential energy be completely converted into kinetic energy?

In ideal conditions, yes, such as in free fall where air resistance is negligible.

Is elastic potential energy relevant in everyday objects?

Absolutely, it's seen in objects like rubber bands and springs.

Is gravitational potential energy relevant in space exploration?

Absolutely, it's vital in calculating orbital mechanics and spacecraft trajectories.

Does temperature affect elastic potential energy?

Yes, as it can change the material properties, affecting its ability to store energy.

How is elastic potential energy applied in vehicles?

It's used in suspension systems to absorb shocks and maintain comfort.

Is elastic potential energy important in sports equipment?

Yes, in equipment like tennis rackets, golf clubs, and archery bows.

Can elastic potential energy be harmful?

If not controlled, the sudden release can be dangerous, like in snapped rubber bands or broken springs.

How do scientists measure elastic potential energy?

Typically, by calculating the force applied and the extent of deformation, often using Hooke's Law for linear elastic materials.

Can gravitational potential energy change with location?

Yes, it varies with altitude and the strength of the gravitational field.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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