Accelerating expansion of the universe Independent lines of evidence from Type Ia supernovae and the CMB imply that the universe today is dominated by a mysterious form of energy known as dark energywhich apparently permeates all of space. When the universe was very young, it was likely infused with dark energy, but with less space and everything closer together, gravity predominated, and it was slowly braking the expansion. But eventually, after numerous billion years of expansion, the growing abundance of dark energy caused the expansion of the universe to slowly begin to accelerate.
It describes why that apple fell from that tree in that orchard in Lincolnshire. Whether or not that apple actually landed on Isaac Newton's head, as some stories would have it, this equation describes why you stay rooted to the ground, what locks the Earth in orbit around the sun and was used by Nasa engineers to send men to the moon.
It encapsulates the idea that all the particles of matter in the universe attract each other through the force of gravity — Newton's law tells us how strong that attraction is. The equation says that the force F between two objects is proportional to the product of their masses m1 and m2divided by the square of the distance between them.
The remaining term in the equation, G, is the gravitational constant, which has to be measured by experiment and, as ofUS scientists have measured it at 6.
Newton came to the formula after studying the centuries of measurements from astronomers before him. Stargazers had spent millennia cataloguing the positions of the stars and planets in the night sky and, by the 17th century, the German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler had worked out the geometry of these movements.
By looking at the movement of Mars, Kepler had calculated that planets orbited the sun in elliptical paths and, in a kind of celestial clockwork, his three laws of planetary motion allowed astronomers to work out the position of the planets in the future based on data from past records.
Kepler's laws explain how the planets moved around the sun but not why. Newton filled in that gap by supposing there was a force acting between the bodies that were moving around each other.
The story goes that Newton saw an apple fall to the ground and it made him wonder why the fruit always fell straight to the ground; why did it not veer off to the left or right? According to his own laws of motion, anything that begins moving from a standing start is undergoing acceleration and, where there is acceleration, there must be a force.
The apple started in the tree and landed on the Earth, which means there must be a force of attraction between the apple and the Earth.
And even if the apple were higher up in the tree, it would still feel this force of attraction with the Earth, reasoned Newton.
In fact, the attraction shouldn't even stop at the top of a tree but carry on way up into the heavens. Which raised the question: Newton concluded that the moon did feel the effect of the Earth's attractive force and that it was indeed falling towards Earth, but there was a very good reason why it didn't crash down.
He used a thought experiment to explain his thinking: The ball would follow a curved trajectory as it moved forward and was attracted, by gravity, towards the ground at the same time. Fire the cannonball with more energy and it would land further away from the mountain, but it still would follow a curved trajectory in doing so.
Newton proposed that, if you fired the cannonball with enough energy, it could fly all the way around the Earth and never land, because the Earth would be curving away underneath the ball at the same rate as the ball fell. In other words, the ball would now be in orbit around the Earth.
And this is what happens with the moon — it is in freefall around the Earth but it moves fast enough so that the Earth's surface never quite "catches" it. Newton's law tells us that the strength of the gravitational force between two objects drops off in the same way that a light gets dimmer as you move away from it, a relationship known mathematically as an inverse square law.
Another way to visualise the drop-off in the field is to imagine the gravitational field around an object as a series of concentric spheres. Each sphere represents the same "amount" of gravitational field but the spheres further from the object are bigger, so that same amount of field is spread thinner, over a larger area.
The field thus gets weaker as you move away from the object, in proportion to the surface areas of these spheres. The m1 and m2 could be planets and stars or they could be you and the Earth.
Compute the equation using numbers for your mass and that of the Earth, and you will get your weight, measured in Newtons.
Weight, in true scientific terms, is the gravitational force acting on your mass which is measured in kilograms at any point in time. Your mass will stay the same wherever you go in the universe but your weight will fluctuate depending on the mass and position of the objects around you.
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