Acceleration Due To Gravity

Acceleration (the rate of change of velocity) is caused by a net force on an object.  On Earth, one force we can always count on is the ever present force of gravity pulling down on any object that has mass.  If gravity is the only force acting on an object, then we find the object will accelerate at a rate of 9.8m/s2 down toward the center of the Earth (this is often rounded to 10m/s2).  

Grape and Grapefruit drop 7k In fact, all objects will fall at this rate if the air does not act to slow them down.  An easy proof of this is to drop a grape and a grapefruit at the same time from the same height. 
Book and Paper fall  8k However, if you drop a book and a piece of paper, you will notice that the paper does not accelerate as much as the book because the small force of gravity on the paper is easily opposed by the force of air friction on the paper.  A similar force acts on the book from the air but it is small compared to the force of gravity on it.  To prove to yourself that it is the air, put the paper on top of the book then drop the book (try it).


Get QuickTime 3.0Galileo theorized that in the absence of air, all things would truly fall with the same acceleration.  300 years later the crew of Apollo-15 demonstrated this on the Moon (which has gravity but lacks air) by dropping a hammer and a feather.



No Previous

Lesson Index


1999 Science Joy Wagon