Isaac Newton and the Law of Gravity
Our second
important scientific advance stems from the first. Isaac
Newton’s (1543-1727) Universal Law of Gravitation helps
support Copernicus’ observation that the earth and other
planets revolve around the sun. Newton argued that the idea
came to him when he saw an apple fall from a tree straight
down to the earth. From there he made the important leap that,
in a sense, the apple was like the moon in that each body was
draw toward the earth. Newton’s (1543-1727) Universal Law of
Gravitation was published in his Principia (Philosophiae
Naturalis Principia Matematica) in 1687. Newton’s Law of
Gravitation states that each body of mass attracts all other
bodies of mass through a force along the line that intersects
both masses. That force is gravity and it is directly
proportional to the product of the two bodies of mass, and
inversely proportional to the square of the distances between
the two bodies of mass. Although others had posited similar
ideas earlier than Newton, most notably Robert Hooke who
published his System of the World in the 1660s, Newton was the
first to not only present the idea of gravity but also offer
scientific proof to support his claim in the form of a
mathematical equation describing the Law of Gravitation.
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It wasn´t until 1798 that the calculation of a value for g, the
gravitational constant, was possible thanks to the work of
Henry Cavendish who was able to conduct a laboratory
experiment to calculate the gravitational pull between two
bodies of mass. Thus, Isaac Newton’s contribution to
scientific advances lies both in his Universal Law of Gravity
and also in his demonstration of that law. In this way, Newton
moved beyond the traditional emphasis on describing natural
phenomena to explaining such phenomena and providing a deeper
understanding of the world around us. While Newton’s law is
accurate enough for practical use, there are certain aspects
of Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation that are cause for
concern. For example, Newton’s law cannot be used to
accurately predict light deflection due to gravity. The result
predicted by Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation is just
half the amount of deflection actually observed. A more
accurate calculation is provided by the next important
scientific advance, the Theory of General Relativity presented
by Albert Einstein.
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