Solar System and Gravity

Topics: Moon, Mass, Solar System Pages: 7 (1097 words) Published: June 16, 2002
The Effects of Gravity

There are some people who worry that when they're outside, if they don't keep a

good grip on the ground, they'll just go flinging off into space. They needn't really worry

about this, because gravity generally keeps that sort of thing from happening. The thing is,

no one is really sure what causes gravity, but the effects have been studied by many

physicists and astronomers. Three of the more obvious effects of gravity are things falling

down, weight, and the the moon and planets staying in their orbits.

Things fall down. People have generally grown to accept that if one lets go of

one's prized and valuable textbook when walking through a mud puddle, the book will

invariably end up in the puddle and therefore be stripped of all value and even legibility.

Things fall down because there is a strong gravitational attraction between things of great

mass, like the Earth, and things of little mass, like a book. The only problem with this

relatively simple explanation is that no one really knows why it's like that. What people

have figured out so far is that gravity is a force, and a force is anything that changes the

state of rest or motion of an object. In the absence of outside forces, the momentum of a

system remains constant. This means that if there was no gravity, when one would

relinquish one's hold on the textbook, it would remain at rest in the air. If a force acts on a

body, the body accelerates in the direction of the force. In the example of the force of

gravity, small things like textbooks are pulled downward toward the center of the large

mass of the Earth, not up into space, even if some people think that this might happen.
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Isaac Newton was the first to conceive of weight as the gravitational attraction

between a body and the Earth. The force that results from the gravitational attraction of

the Earth on bodies at its surface is what we call weight. Science has chosen to measure

the mass of objects in units that are roughly equivalent to the weight of those objects on

Earth. For example, if a textbook weighs four pounds on Earth, it would have a mass of

four pounds in an orbiting spaceship. The textbook would be "weightless" because it does

not feel the gravitational attraction of the Earth, but, even in outer space, to push the

textbook from one place to another, someone would have to exert a force sufficient to

overcome the inertial mass of four pounds. If that same textbook which weighs four

pounds on Earth, was placed on the surface of the much more massive planet Jupiter, the

book would weigh 15.76 pounds, because of Jupiter's stronger gravitational attraction.

Newton was also the first to assume correctly that the same force of gravity

that causes objects to fall and to have weight, also explains the movement of astronomical

bodies. Newton stated that every particle is attracted to every other particle with a force

directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the

square of the distance between them. It was natural for him to turn his attention to

celestial bodies, since, on Earth, the distance between a body and Earth could not be

varied greatly, and the force of attraction between two different bodies on Earth was too

feeble to be detected by methods available at that time. The astronomer Johannes Kepler

knew that planets moved in ellipses, but he didn't know why. He sensed that planetary

bodies and the sun probably had a natural affinity for each other, and that possibly

magnetism was involved. By studying Kepler's observations, Newton derived laws that

described how the force of gravity acted. He was the first to declare that the pull of the
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Earth extended to infinity. He showed that a projectile launched at sufficiently great...

Cited: Goldsmith, Donald. The Astronomers. New York: St. Martin 's Press, 1991
Newman, James R. The Harper Encyclopedia Of Science. 2nd ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1967.
Macmillan. The New York Public Library Science Desk Reference. New York: The Stonesong Press Inc. and The New York Public Library, 1995.
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