Since the gravitational force is experienced by all matter in the universe, from the largest galaxies down to the smallest particles, it is often called universal gravitation. (Based upon observations of distant supernovas around the turn of the 21st cent., a repulsive force, termed dark energy, that opposes the self-attraction of matter has been proposed to explain the accelerated expansion of the universe.) Sir Isaac Newton was the first to fully recognize that the force holding any object to the earth is the same as the force holding the moon, the planets, and other heavenly bodies in their orbits. According to Newton's law of universal gravitation, the force between any two bodies is directly proportional to the product of their masses (see mass) and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. The constant of proportionality in this law is known as the gravitational constant; it is usually represented by the symbol G and has the value 6.670 × 10-11 N-m2/kg2 in the meter-kilogram-second (mks) system of units. Very accurate early measurements of the value of G were made by Henry Cavendish.The Relativistic Explanation of Gravitation
Newton's theory of gravitation was long able to explain all observable gravitational phenomena, from the falling of objects on the earth to the motions of the planets. However, as centuries passed, very slight discrepancies were observed between the predictions of Newtonian theory and actual events, most notably in the motions of the planet Mercury. The general theory of relativity proposed in 1916 by Albert Einstein explained these differences and provided a geometric explanation for gravitational phenomena, holding that matter causes a curvature of the space-time framework in its immediate neighborhood.The Search for Gravity Waves
Tantalizing evidence for the existence of gravity waves, which are predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity and would be analogous to electromagnetic waves, comes from astronomical observations of a binary pulsar designated 1913 + 16. The rate at which the two neutron stars in the binary rotate around each other is changing in a manner that is consistent with the emission of gravity waves. A hypothetical particle, given the name graviton, has been suggested as the mediator of the gravitational force; it is analogous to the photon, the particle embodying the quantum properties of electromagnetic waves (see quantum theory). The search for gravity waves continues with the building of large interferometers that would be sensitive enough to detect the faint waves directly (see interference). Millions of dollars have already been spent on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO), supported by the National Science Foundation, and work is beginning on the even more ambitious Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA).
The term gravity is commonly used synonymously with gravitation, but in correct usage a definite distinction is made. Whereas gravitation is the attractive force acting to draw any bodies together, gravity indicates that force in operation between the earth and other bodies, i.e., the force acting to draw bodies toward the earth. The force tending to hold objects to the earth's surface depends not only on the earth's gravitational field but also on other factors, such as the earth's rotation. The measure of the force of gravity on a given body is the weight of that body; although the mass of a body does not vary with location, its weight does vary. It is found that at any given location, all objects are accelerated equally by the force of gravity, observed differences being due to differences in air resistance, etc. Thus, the acceleration due to gravity, symbolized as g, provides a convenient measure of the strength of the earth's gravitational field at different locations. The value of g varies from about 9.832 meters per second per second (m/sec2) at the poles to about 9.780 m/sec2 at the equator. Its value generally decreases with increasing altitude. Because variations in the value of g are not large, for ordinary calculations a value of 9.8 m/sec2, or 32 ft/sec2, is commonly used.
See A. S. Eddington, Space, Time and Gravitation (1920); J. A. Wheeler, A Journey into Gravity and Spacetime (1990); M. Bartusiak, Einstein's Unfinished Symphony: Listening to the Sounds of Space-Time (2000).
The terms gravitation and gravity are mostly interchangeable in everyday use, but a distinction may be made in scientific usage. "Gravitation" is a general term describing the phenomenon responsible for keeping the Earth and the other planets in their orbits around the Sun; for keeping the Moon in its orbit around the Earth, for the formation of tides; for convection (by which hot fluids rise); for heating the interiors of forming stars and planets to very high temperatures; and for various other phenomena that we observe. "Gravity", on the other hand, is described as the theoretical force responsible for the apparent attraction between a mass and the Earth. In general relativity, gravitation is defined as the curvature of spacetime which governs the motion of inertial objects.
In the 4th century BC, the Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that there was no effect without a cause, and therefore no motion without a force. He hypothesized that everything tried to move towards its proper place in the crystalline spheres of the heavens, and that physical bodies fell toward the center of the Earth in proportion to their weight.
Brahmagupta, in the Brahmasphuta Siddhanta (AD 628), responded to critics of the heliocentric system of Aryabhata (AD 476–550) stating that "all heavy things are attracted towards the center of the earth" and that "all heavy things fall down to the earth by a law of nature, for it is the nature of the earth to attract and to keep things, as it is the nature of water to flow, that of fire to burn, and that of wind to set in motion... The earth is the only low thing, and seeds always return to it, in whatever direction you may throw them away, and never rise upwards from the earth.
In the 9th century, the eldest Banū Mūsā brother, Muhammad ibn Musa, in his Astral Motion and The Force of Attraction, hypothesized that there was a force of attraction between heavenly bodies, foreshadowing Newton's law of universal gravitation. In the 1000s, the Persian scientist Ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen), in the Mizan al-Hikmah, discussed the theory of attraction between masses, and it seems that he was aware of the magnitude of acceleration due to gravity. In 1121, Al-Khazini, in The Book of the Balance of Wisdom, differentiated between force, mass, and weight, and theorized that gravity varies with the distance from the centre of the Earth, though he believed that the weight of heavy bodies increase as they are farther from the centre of the Earth. All these early attempts at trying to explain the force of gravity were philosophical in nature.
Newton's theory enjoyed its greatest success when it was used to predict the existence of Neptune based on motions of Uranus that could not be accounted by the actions of the other planets. Calculations by John Couch Adams and Urbain Le Verrier both predicted the general position of the planet, and Le Verrier's calculations are what led Johann Gottfried Galle to the discovery of Neptune.
Ironically, it was another discrepancy in a planet's orbit that helped to point out flaws in Newton's theory. By the end of the 19th century, it was known that the orbit of Mercury showed slight perturbations that could not be accounted for entirely under Newton's theory, but all searches for another perturbing body (such as a planet orbiting the Sun even closer than Mercury) had been fruitless. The issue was resolved in 1915 by Albert Einstein's new General Theory of Relativity, which accounted for the small discrepancy in Mercury's orbit.
Although Newton's theory has been superseded, most modern non-relativistic gravitational calculations are still made using Newton's theory because it is a much simpler theory to work with than General Relativity, and gives sufficiently accurate results for most applications.
Einstein proposed that spacetime is curved by matter, and that free-falling objects are moving along locally straight paths in curved spacetime. These straight lines are called geodesics. Like Newton's First Law, Einstein's theory stated that if there is a force applied to an object, it would deviate from the geodesics in spacetime. For example, we are no longer following the geodesics while standing because the mechanical resistance of the Earth exerts an upward force on us. Thus, we are non-inertial on the ground. This explains why moving along the geodesics in spacetime is considered inertial.
Einstein discovered the field equations of general relativity, which relate the presence of matter and the curvature of spacetime and are named after him. The Einstein field equations are a set of 10 simultaneous, non-linear, differential equations. The solutions of the field equations are the components of the metric tensor of spacetime. A metric tensor describes a geometry of spacetime. The geodesic paths for a spacetime are calculated from the metric tensor.
Notable solutions of the Einstein field equations include:
General relativity has enjoyed much success because of how its predictions of phenomena which are not called for by the theory of gravity have been regularly confirmed. For example:
Several decades after the discovery of general relativity it was realized that general relativity is incompatible with quantum mechanics. It is possible to describe gravity in the framework of quantum field theory like the other fundamental forces, such that the attractive force of gravity arises due to exchange of virtual gravitons, in the same way as the electromagnetic force arises from exchange of virtual photons. This reproduces general relativity in the classical limit. However, this approach fails at short distances of the order of the Planck length, where a more complete theory of quantum gravity (or a new approach to quantum mechanics) is required. Many believe the complete theory to be string theory, or more currently M Theory.
The strength of the gravitational field is numerically equal to the acceleration of objects under its influence, and its value at the Earth's surface, denoted g, is approximately expressed below as the standard average.
g = 9.8 m/s2 = 32.2 ft/s2
This means that, ignoring air resistance, an object falling freely near the earth's surface increases its velocity with 9.8 m/s (32.2 ft/s or 22 mph) for each second of its descent. Thus, an object starting from rest will attain a velocity of 9.8 m/s (32.2 ft/s) after one second, 19.6 m/s (64.4 ft/s) after two seconds, and so on, adding 9.8 m/s (32.2 ft/s) to each resulting velocity.
According to Newton's 3rd Law, the Earth itself experiences an equal and opposite force to that acting on the falling object, meaning that the Earth also accelerates towards the object. However, because the mass of the Earth is huge, the acceleration of the Earth by this same force is negligible, when measured relative to the system's center of mass.
Under an assumption of constant gravity, Newton’s law of gravitation simplifies to F = mg, where m is the mass of the body and g is a constant vector with an average magnitude of 9.81 m/s². The acceleration due to gravity is equal to this g. An initially-stationary object which is allowed to fall freely under gravity drops a distance which is proportional to the square of the elapsed time. The image on the right, spanning half a second, was captured with a stroboscopic flash at 20 flashes per second. During the first 1/20th of a second the ball drops one unit of distance (here, a unit is about 12 mm); by 2/20ths it has dropped at total of 4 units; by 3/20ths, 9 units and so on.
Under the same constant gravity assumptions, the potential energy, Ep, of a body at height h is given by Ep = mgh (or Ep = Wh, with W meaning weight). This expression is valid only over small distances h from the surface of the Earth. Similarly, the expression for the maximum height reached by a vertically projected body with velocity v is useful for small heights and small initial velocities only. In case of large initial velocities we have to use the principle of conservation of energy to find the maximum height reached. This same expression can be solved for v to determine the velocity of an object dropped from a height h immediately before hitting the ground, , assuming negligible air resistance.
In general relativity, gravitational radiation is generated in situations where the curvature of spacetime is oscillating, such as is the case with co-orbiting objects. The gravitational radiation emitted by the solar system is far too small to measure. However, gravitational radiation has been indirectly observed as an energy loss over time in binary pulsar systems such as PSR 1913+16. It is believed that neutron star mergers and black hole formation may create detectable amounts of gravitational radiation. Gravitational radiation observatories such as LIGO have been created to study the problem. No confirmed detections have been made of this hypothetical radiation, but as the science behind LIGO is refined and as the instruments themselves are endowed with greater sensitivity over the next decade, this may change.
There are some observations that are not adequately accounted for, which may point to the need for better theories of gravity or perhaps be explained in other ways.