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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • List the significant milestones in the history of gravitation
  • Calculate the gravitational force between two point masses
  • Estimate the gravitational force between collections of mass

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 history of gravitation

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’s law of universal gravitation

Newton noted that objects at Earth’s surface (hence at a distance of R E from the center of Earth) have an acceleration of g , but the Moon, at a distance of about 60 R 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.

Questions & Answers

what is the formula for pressure?
Goodness Reply
force/area
Kidus
force is newtom
Kidus
and area is meter squared
Kidus
so in SI units pressure is N/m^2
Kidus
In customary United States units pressure is lb/in^2. pound per square inch
Kidus
who is Newton?
John Reply
scientist
Jeevan
a scientist
Peter
that discovered law of motion
Peter
ok
John
but who is Isaac newton?
John
a postmodernist would say that he did not discover them, he made them up and they're not actually a reality in itself, but a mere construct by which we decided to observe the word around us
elo
how?
Qhoshe
what is a scalar quantity
Peter Reply
scalar: are quantity have numerical value
muslim
is that a better way in defining scalar quantity
Peter
thanks
muslim
quantity that has magnitude but no direction
Peter
upward force and downward force lift
adegboye Reply
upward force and downward force on lift
adegboye
hi
Etini
hi
elo
hy
Xander
Hello
Jux_dob
hi
Peter
Helo
Tobi
what's the answer? I can't get it
Rachel Reply
what is the question again?
Sallieu
What's this conversation?
Zareen
what is catenation? and give examples
sununu
How many kilometres in 1 mile
Nessy
1.609km in 1mile
Faqir
what's the si unit of impulse
Iguh Reply
The Newton second (N•s)
Ethan
what is the s. I unit of current
Roland Reply
Amphere(A)
imam
thanks man
Roland
u r welcome
imam
the velocity of a boat related to water is 3i+4j and that of water related to earth is i-3j. what is the velocity of the boat relative to earth.If unit vector i and j represent 1km/hour east and north respectively
Pallavi Reply
what is head to tail rule?
kinza Reply
Explain Head to tail rule?
kinza
what is the guess theorem
Monu Reply
viva question and answer on practical youngs modulus by streching
Akash Reply
send me vvi que
rupesh
a car can cover a distance of 522km on 36 Liter's of petrol, how far can it travel on 14 liter of petrol.
Isaac
yoo the ans is 193
Joseph
whats a two dimensional force
Jimoh Reply
what are two dimensional force?
Ahmad
Where is Fourier Theorem?
Atul Reply
what is Boyle's law
Amoo Reply
Boyle's law state that the volume of a given mass of gas is inversely proportion to its pressure provided that temperature remains constant
Abe
how do I turn off push notifications on this crap app?
Huntergirl
what is the meaning of in.
CHUKWUMA Reply
In means natural logarithm
Elom
is dea graph for cancer caliper experiment using glass block?
Bako
why the ship created in search way?
Mershak
Practice Key Terms 2

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Source:  OpenStax, University physics volume 1. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col12031/1.5
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