Petschek, Albert G. Formerly, Department of Physics, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro, New Mexico.
Last reviewed:January 2021
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A theorem in classical mechanics which relates the kinetic energy of a system to the virial of Clausius, as defined below. The theorem can be generalized to quantum mechanics and has widespread application. It connects the average kinetic and potential energies for systems in which the potential is a power of the radius. Since the theorem involves integral quantities such as the total kinetic energy, rather than the kinetic energies of the individual particles that may be involved, it gives valuable information on the behavior of complex systems. For example, in statistical mechanics it is intimately connected to the equipartition theorem; in astrophysics it may be used to connect the internal temperature, mass, and radius of a star and to discuss stellar stability. The virial theorem makes possible a very easy derivation of the somewhat counterintuitive result that as a star radiates energy and contracts it heats up, rather than cooling down. See also: Star; Statistical mechanics; Stellar evolution
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