<< Chapter < Page | Chapter >> Page > |
We first review the history of the study of gravitation, with emphasis on those phenomena that for thousands of years have inspired philosophers and scientists to search for an explanation. Then we examine the simplest form of Newton’s law of universal gravitation and how to apply it.
The earliest philosophers wondered why objects naturally tend to fall toward the ground. Aristotle (384–322 BCE) believed that it was the nature of rocks to seek Earth and the nature of fire to seek the Heavens. Brahmagupta (598~665 CE) postulated that Earth was a sphere and that objects possessed a natural affinity for it, falling toward the center from wherever they were located.
The motions of the Sun, our Moon, and the planets have been studied for thousands of years as well. These motions were described with amazing accuracy by Ptolemy (90–168 CE), whose method of epicycles described the paths of the planets as circles within circles. However, there is little evidence that anyone connected the motion of astronomical bodies with the motion of objects falling to Earth—until the seventeenth century.
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) is generally credited as being the first to challenge Ptolemy’s geocentric (Earth-centered) system and suggest a heliocentric system, in which the Sun is at the center of the solar system. This idea was supported by the incredibly precise naked-eye measurements of planetary motions by Tycho Brahe and their analysis by Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei. Kepler showed that the motion of each planet is an ellipse (the first of his three laws, discussed in Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion ), and Robert Hooke (the same Hooke who formulated Hooke’s law for springs) intuitively suggested that these motions are due to the planets being attracted to the Sun. However, it was Isaac Newton who connected the acceleration of objects near Earth’s surface with the centripetal acceleration of the Moon in its orbit about Earth.
Finally, in Einstein’s Theory of Gravity , we look at the theory of general relativity proposed by Albert Einstein in 1916. His theory comes from a vastly different perspective, in which gravity is a manifestation of mass warping space and time. The consequences of his theory gave rise to many remarkable predictions, essentially all of which have been confirmed over the many decades following the publication of the theory (including the 2015 measurement of gravitational waves from the merger of two black holes).
Newton noted that objects at Earth’s surface (hence at a distance of ${R}_{\text{E}}$ from the center of Earth) have an acceleration of g , but the Moon, at a distance of about $60\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}{R}_{\text{E}}$ , has a centripetal acceleration about ${(60)}^{2}$ times smaller than g . He could explain this by postulating that a force exists between any two objects, whose magnitude is given by the product of the two masses divided by the square of the distance between them. We now know that this inverse square law is ubiquitous in nature, a function of geometry for point sources. The strength of any source at a distance r is spread over the surface of a sphere centered about the mass. The surface area of that sphere is proportional to ${r}^{2}$ . In later chapters, we see this same form in the electromagnetic force.
Notification Switch
Would you like to follow the 'University physics volume 1' conversation and receive update notifications?