Historians are not certain if Galileo ever lugged out experiment at the Leaning Tower that Pisa. Therefore why, asks Robert p Crease, has actually the story become component of physics folklore?


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Tall tale – whereby the Galileo legend began

Commander David R Scott (2 august 1971, lunar surface): “Well, in mine left hand I have a feather; in my right hand, a hammer. And I guess one of the reasons we acquired here today was since of a gentleman named Galileo, a lengthy time ago, that made a rather far-reaching discovery around falling objects in heaviness fields. And we thought: ‘Where would certainly be a far better place to check his findings than on the Moon?’.”

Scott: “And for this reason we assumed we’d shot it here for you. The feather wake up to be, appropriately, a falcon feather because that our Falcon. And I’ll drop the 2 of them here and, hopefully, they’ll fight the ground in ~ the same time.” Scott: “How around that! grandfather Galileo was correct in his findings.”

How the legend started

The finding stated by commander Scott, namely the objects of different mass loss at the same rate in a vacuum, is associated with a solitary person (Galileo) and also a single place ­ the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The culprit is Vincenzio Viviani, Galileo’s secretary in the final years the his life.

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We owe plenty of of the Galilean legends to Viviani’s warmth biography of the Italian scholar. One is the story of just how Galileo climbed the Leaning Tower the Pisa and also ­ “in the presence of other teachers and philosophers and also all the students” ­ verified through repetitive experiments that “the velocity of relocating bodies of the same composition, but of various weights, relocating through the exact same medium, execute not acquire the proportion of their weight as Aristotle decreed, yet move v the exact same velocity”.

In his very own books, Galileo uses thought experiments to argue that objects of unlike mass loss together in a vacuum. Without discussing the Leaning Tower, that reports having actually “made the test” through a cannonball and also a musket ball. What is maybe surprising, however, is that Galileo discovered that the two balls did no quite autumn together. This finding ­ coupled v the truth that Viviani’s story is the only resource to mention that the experiment were excellent at the Leaning Tower ­ reasons most historians of scientific research to doubt Viviani’s version of what Galileo did. They think that the elderly and then-blind Galileo may have misremembered once speaking come his youthful assistant.

Dropping the ball

Science historians uncover Galileo’s at an early stage experiments through falling bodies fascinating, for several reasons. One is the Galileo was not the first. As far earlier as the 6th century, various other scholars who wondered about Aristotle’s account of movement had additionally experimented v falling bodies and also concluded that Aristotle was wrong. They included several 16th-century Italians and one of Galileo’s predecessors as professor in ~ Pisa.

Also intriguing is Galileo’s report, based upon experiment, that balls of uneven weight perform not only fall at various rates, yet that the lighter one at first pulls ahead of the more heavier one until the heavier catches up. In the early 1980s the science historian Thomas settle tried come repeat Galileo’s falling-body experiment and, astonishingly, provided the same thing. He suggested that fatigue induced in the hand stop the more heavier object often tends to reason this hand come let go more slowly, also when the dropper to trust the objects are released simultaneously.

Yet one more fascinating side to Galileo’s experiments is the method that they gradually transformed from genuine scientific inquiries right into public displays. ~ Galileo’s death, scientists consisting of Robert Boyle and also Willem ‘sGravesande built air pumps and also special chambers to explore vertical fall in evacuated environments. King George III, for instance, as soon as witnessed a demonstration involving a feather and also a one-guinea coin falling together inside one evacuated tube. The popular of together demonstrations proceeds to this day, special in numerous hands-on science exhibits. Indeed, the “drop stop” in ~ the Boston Museum of scientific research is currently broken native overuse.

Teachers, no doubt, would speak to the Apollo “feather-drop” a sloppy experiment. Nobody bothered to measure the height from i beg your pardon the objects were released (probably 110-160 cm). Nobody cared that Scott was leaning over with his arms not parallel to the ground. Nobody measured the time of the autumn (on the video clip it is just over 1 s). However as a demonstration that is unforgettable. The TV coverage ­ to add the reality that it has a webpage with video clip clip (see related links) ­ makes it perhaps the many watched science demonstration ever.

The an essential point

So why execute falling-body experiments proceed to be so popular? lock were, for example, voted right into the optimal 10 “most beautiful experiments” of all time in my recent poll of Physics people readers (September 2002 pp19­20). I think the price is regarded the reality that, as everyday experience suggests, heavier bodies do loss faster than light ones. Hammers and also golf balls, because that example, autumn faster 보다 feathers and also ping-pong balls. Aristotle had codified this monitoring into an entire framework the was oriented through the day-to-day observations he to be seeking to explain, including an agent that exerted a force versus resistance. Although this framework falls short to combine acceleration, the is tho the one that we greatly live in and that mostly works because that us.

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Thus we have the right to still find it enlightening, or also surprising, to see through our very own eyes the expectation of that frame being violated. Galileo played a seminal function in transforming the framework, in emerging the abstract thinking affiliated in the brand-new one, and also in portraying its importance. Therefore what if there was no initial experiment? Galileo inspired an entire genre of experiments and demonstrations that permit us to adjust how we think and also see. We might as well refer to these as the offspring that Galileo’s experiment in ~ the Leaning Tower of Pisa.