Gravitational constant

Figure 1. A torsional balance used to measure the gravitational constant.[1]

The gravitational constant (G) is an experimentally calculated value that is involved in determining the gravitational force between two objects.[2] Its primary use is outlined in the following equation:

[math] F_{g} = G\frac{m_{1}m_{2}}{r^{2}} [/math]
  • [math]F_{g}[/math] is the gravitational force, measured in newtons
  • [math]G[/math] is the gravitational constant
  • [math]m_{1}[/math] and [math]m_{2}[/math] are the masses of both objects, measured in kilograms
  • [math]r[/math] is the distance between the objects, measured in meters

The gravitational constant is therefore a proportionality constant between the gravitational force and the result of the product of the masses of two objects divided by the square of the distance between them. This is an example of an inverse square law. Historically, this constant was first measured using a torsional balance as seen in figure 1.

For more about how the gravitational constant was found please see Physics Central or this Scientific American article on the Puzzling measurement of the Big - G gravitational constant.

Phet: Gravitational force

The University of Colorado has graciously allowed us to use the following Phet simulation. To get a physical intuition about how the law of gravity works, please explore the simulation below. Notice that even the biggest gravitational force below is still quite small compared to how much a person weighs (about 500-1000 N).

References

  1. Wikimedia Commons. (June 1, 2016). Torsional balance by Chris Burks (Chetvorno) Own workThis vector image was created with Inkscape., Public Domain, [Online]. Available: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2660162
  2. E. Mazur, "Gravity," in Principles and Practice of Physics Volume 1. Pearson, ch. 13, pp. 325

Authors and Editors

Gokul Dharan, Jordan Hanania, Jason Donev
Last updated: August 29, 2017
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