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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

a length of copper wire was measured to be 50m with an uncertainty of 1cm, the thickness of the wire was measured to be 1mm with an uncertainty of 0.01mm, using a micrometer screw gauge, calculate the of copper wire used
Nicole Reply
If centripetal force is directed towards the center,why do you feel that you're thrown away from the center as a car goes around a curve? Explain
Maira Reply
Which kind of wave does wind form
Matthias Reply
calculate the distance you will travel if you mantain an average speed of 10N m/s for 40 second
Abdulai Reply
hw to calculate the momentum of the 2000.0 elephant change hunter at a speed of 7.50 m/s
Kingsley Reply
how many cm makes 1 inches
Hassan Reply
how do we convert from m/s to km/hr
Toni Reply
When paddling a canoe upstream, it is wisest to travel as near to the shore as possible. When canoeing downstream, it may be best to stay near the middle. Explain why?
SANA Reply
Explain why polarization does not occur in sound
one ship sailing east with a speed of 7.5m/s passes a certain point at 8am and a second ship sailing north at the same speed passed the same point at 9.30am at what distance are they closet together and what is the distance between them then
Kuber Reply
density of a subtance is given as 360g/cm,put it in it s.i unit form
Linda Reply
if m2 is twice of m1. find the ration of kinetic energy in COM system to lab system of elastic collision
Raman Reply
What is a volt equal to?
Clifton Reply
list and explain the 3 ways of charging a conductor
Chidimma Reply
conduction convention rubbing
formula of magnetic field
Yonas Reply
why polarization does not occur in sound
Integral of a vector
Rahat Reply
define surface integral of a vector?
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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