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how was the value of gravitational constant found?

7 years ago

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The gravitational constant appears in Newton's law of universal gravitation, but it was not measured until 1798 — 71 years after Newton's death — by Henry Cavendish (Philosophical Transactions 1798). Cavendish measured G implicitly, using a torsion balance invented by the geologist Rev. John Michell. He used a horizontal torsion beam with lead balls whose inertia (in relation to the torsion constant) he could tell by timing the beam's oscillation. Their faint attraction to other balls placed alongside the beam was detectable by the deflection it caused. However, it is worth mentioning that the aim of Cavendish was not to measure the gravitational constant but rather to measure the mass and density relative to water of the Earth through the precise knowledge of the gravitational interaction. The value that he calculated, in SI units, was 6.754 × 10−11 m3/kg/s2

The accuracy of the measured value of G has increased only modestly since the original experiment of Cavendish. G is quite difficult to measure, as gravity is much weaker than other fundamental forces, and an experimental apparatus cannot be separated from the gravitational influence of other bodies. Furthermore, gravity has no established relation to other fundamental forces, so it does not appear possible to measure it indirectly. Published values of G have varied rather broadly, and some recent measurements of high precision are, in fact, mutually exclusive.


In the January 5, 2007 issue of Science (page 74), the report "Atom Interferometer Measurement of the Newtonian Constant of Gravity" (J. B. Fixler, G. T. Foster, J. M. McGuirk, and M. A. Kasevich) describes a new measurement of the gravitational constant. According to the abstract: "Here, we report a value of G = 6.693 × 10−11 cubic meters per kilogram second squared, with a standard error of the mean of ±0.027 × 10−11 and a systematic error of ±0.021 × 10−11 cubic meters per kilogram second squared."

7 years ago

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