Gravity: A Heavy Topic!

Today, we talked about how strange and interesting gravity is. We know so much about gravity already, but there is so much we still need to learn. What scientists have learned about gravity has allowed us to travel into space and to the Moon. It’s allowed us to send probes out into the solar system and beyond, and even to the surface of other planets, including Venus and Mars!

We learned that gravity depends on the mass of an object, and that all objects have some amount of gravitational force. Students were introduced to Isaac Newton’s law of universal gravitation and explored the equation’s underlying principles through a series of activities. With a demonstration using balls on a blanket, we showed how massive objects bend the fabric of space-time, causing other objects to gravitate towards them. With just the right velocity and trajectory, a smaller object can go into orbit around a larger object…but if the smaller object is moving too slowly, it can fall and crash into that larger object. It’s a good thing the Earth doesn’t slow down in frictionless space, or it could crash into the Sun!   Gravity is obviously important for astronomers and cosmologists to understand.

We examined how two objects with comparable air resistance will fall to the ground at the same time, regardless of mass. We now know that the same thing will happen if we were to drop the objects on the Moon!  We also compared the weight of an empty bottle with other bottles that weighed as much as the empty bottle would weigh if it were on the moon, Jupiter, or the Sun. The bottle filled with sand is what the empty bottle would feel like on the Sun, where it would weigh more than 27 times as much as it weighs on Earth!

We also experimented with magnetism as a stand-in for gravitational force, demonstrating that the strength of gravitational force (or magnetic force) is proportional to distance. Magnets that start out close together will propel each other further apart than magnets that start out far apart!

Carmen San Diego also made a special Halloween appearance!


La Gravedad: un tema “pesado”

Hoy conversamos sobre lo extraña, pero a su vez interesante, que es la gravedad. Sabemos mucho sobre la gravedad, pero aún queda mucho por aprender. Lo que los científicos conocen acerca de la gravedad nos ha permitido viajar al espacio y a la Luna. También nos ha permitido enviar sondas al Sistema Solar y más allá, ¡incluso hemos podido llegar a otros planetas como Venus y Marte!

Aprendimos que la gravedad depende de la masa de un objeto y que todos los objetos poseen alguna cantidad de fuerza gravitacional. A los estudiantes se les introdujo la ley de gravitación universal de Isaac Newton y exploraron los principios subyacentes de la ecuación a través de una serie de actividades. Mediante una demostración usando bolas y una manta, demostramos cómo los objetos más grandes “doblan” la tela del tiempo y espacio, causando así que los otros objetos graviten hacia ellos. Con la velocidad y trayectoria adecuada, un objeto pequeño puede orbitar alrededor de un objeto más grande…pero si el objeto pequeño se mueve despacio, se puede caer de la órbita y chocar con el objeto más grande. Es muy bueno que la Tierra no disminuya su velocidad en el espacio, ¡porque sino podría chocar con el Sol! La gravedad es un tema de gran interés para los astrónomos y cosmólogos.

También examinamos cómo dos objetos, con resistencia de aire similares, caen al piso al mismo tiempo aunque su masa sea distinta. Sabemos que sucedería lo mismo si es que tiráramos dos objetos en la Luna. Además realizamos una  comparación de cuánto pesaría una botella vacía si estuviéramos en la Luna, Júpiter o el Sol. Una botella vacía en el Sol pesaría tanto como si estuviera llena de arena, es decir, pesaría 27 veces más de lo que pesa en la Tierra.


Lauren Koppel

Lauren earned a Bachelor’s degree with a double major of Biology and Psychology from Clark University, and a Master of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. During her undergraduate years, she worked in a evolutionary neurobiology lab that studied the neural development of annelids (marine worms), with a focus on the sox family of genes. Lauren loves learning about how the world works (including everything from biology to chemistry to engineering), and is passionate about sharing that knowledge and enthusiasm with others. In the past, she has interned at the Museum of Science, where she educated learners of all ages through hands-on activities, games, and experiments. Other science education organizations with which Lauren has worked include The People’s Science, EurekaFest, and Eureka! of Girls Inc. of Worcester. Currently she lives in Boston, where devotes her free time to playing Quidditch, reading sci-fi novels, playing her ukulele, and enjoying all the culinary delights the city has to offer.

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