Hammer and feather drop: astronaut David Scott (from mission Apollo 15) on the Moon enacting the legend of Galileo's gravity experiment. (1.38 MB, ogg/Theora format).

Gravity (from Latin gravitas, meaning 'weight'[1]), or gravitation, is a natural phenomenon by which all things with mass or energy—including planets, stars, galaxies, and even light[2]—are brought toward (or gravitate toward) one another. On Earth, gravity gives weight to physical objects, and the Moon's gravity causes the ocean tides. The gravitational attraction of the original gaseous matter present in the Universe caused it to begin coalescing, forming stars—and for the stars to group together into galaxies—so gravity is responsible for many of the large-scale structures in the Universe. Gravity has an infinite range, although its effects become increasingly weaker on farther objects.

Gravity is most accurately described by the general theory of relativity (proposed by Albert Einstein in 1915) which describes gravity not as a force, but as a consequence of the curvature of spacetime caused by the uneven distribution of mass. The most extreme example of this curvature of spacetime is a black hole, from which nothing—not even light—can escape once past the black hole's event horizon.[3] However, for most applications, gravity is well approximated by Newton's law of universal gravitation, which describes gravity as a force which causes any two bodies to be attracted to each other, with the force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.

Gravity is the weakest of the four fundamental interactions of physics, approximately 1038 times weaker than the strong interaction, 1036 times weaker than the electromagnetic force and 1029 times weaker than the weak interaction. As a consequence, it has no significant influence at the level of subatomic particles.[4] In contrast, it is the dominant interaction at the macroscopic scale, and is the cause of the formation, shape and trajectory (orbit) of astronomical bodies.

The earliest instance of gravity in the Universe, possibly in the form of quantum gravity, supergravity or a gravitational singularity, along with ordinary space and time, developed during the Planck epoch (up to 10−43 seconds after the birth of the Universe), possibly from a primeval state, such as a false vacuum, quantum vacuum or virtual particle, in a currently unknown manner.[5] Attempts to develop a theory of gravity consistent with quantum mechanics, a quantum gravity theory, which would allow gravity to be united in a common mathematical framework (a theory of everything) with the other three fundamental interactions of physics, are a current area of research.

History of gravitational theory

Ancient world

The ancient Greek philosopher Archimedes discovered the center of gravity of a triangle.[6] He also postulated that if two equal weights did not have the same center of gravity, the center of gravity of the two weights together would be in the middle of the line that joins their centers of gravity.[7]

The Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius in De Architectura postulated that gravity of an object did not depend on weight but its "nature".[8]

In ancient India, Aryabhata first identified the force to explain why objects are not thrown out when the earth rotates. Brahmagupta described gravity as an attractive force and used the term "gurutvaakarshan" for gravity.[9][10]

Scientific revolution

Modern work on gravitational theory began with the work of Galileo Galilei in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. In his famous (though possibly apocryphal[11]) experiment dropping balls from the Tower of Pisa, and later with careful measurements of balls rolling down inclines, Galileo showed that gravitational acceleration is the same for all objects. This was a major departure from Aristotle's belief that heavier objects have a higher gravitational acceleration.[12] Galileo postulated air resistance as the reason that objects with less mass fall more slowly in an atmosphere. Galileo's work set the stage for the formulation of Newton's theory of gravity.[13]

Newton's theory of gravitation

English physicist and mathematician, Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727)

In 1687, English mathematician Sir Isaac Newton published Principia, which hypothesizes the inverse-square law of universal gravitation. In his own words, "I deduced that the forces which keep the planets in their orbs must [be] reciprocally as the squares of their distances from the centers about which they revolve: and thereby compared the force requisite to keep the Moon in her Orb with the force of gravity at the surface of the Earth; and found them answer pretty nearly."[14] The equation is the following:

Where F is the force, m1 and m2 are the masses of the objects interacting, r is the distance between the centers of the masses and G is the gravitational constant.

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 for by the actions of the other planets. Calculations by both John Couch Adams and Urbain Le Verrier predicted the general position of the planet, and Le Verrier's calculations are what led Johann Gottfried Galle to the discovery of Neptune.

A discrepancy in Mercury's orbit pointed out flaws in Newton's theory. By the end of the 19th century, it was known that its orbit 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 theory of general relativity, which accounted for the small discrepancy in Mercury's orbit. This discrepancy was the advance in the perihelion of Mercury of 42.98 arcseconds per century.[15]

Although Newton's theory has been superseded by Einstein's general relativity, most modern non-relativistic gravitational calculations are still made using Newton's theory because it is simpler to work with and it gives sufficiently accurate results for most applications involving sufficiently small masses, speeds and energies.

Equivalence principle

The equivalence principle, explored by a succession of researchers including Galileo, Loránd Eötvös, and Einstein, expresses the idea that all objects fall in the same way, and that the effects of gravity are indistinguishable from certain aspects of acceleration and deceleration. The simplest way to test the weak equivalence principle is to drop two objects of different masses or compositions in a vacuum and see whether they hit the ground at the same time. Such experiments demonstrate that all objects fall at the same rate when other forces (such as air resistance and electromagnetic effects) are negligible. More sophisticated tests use a torsion balance of a type invented by Eötvös. Satellite experiments, for example STEP, are planned for more accurate experiments in space.[16]

Formulations of the equivalence principle include:

  • The weak equivalence principle: The trajectory of a point mass in a gravitational field depends only on its initial position and velocity, and is independent of its composition.[17]
  • The Einsteinian equivalence principle: The outcome of any local non-gravitational experiment in a freely falling laboratory is independent of the velocity of the laboratory and its location in spacetime.[18]
  • The strong equivalence principle requiring both of the above.

General relativity

Two-dimensional analogy of spacetime distortion generated by the mass of an object. Matter changes the geometry of spacetime, this (curved) geometry being interpreted as gravity. White lines do not represent the curvature of space but instead represent the coordinate system imposed on the curved spacetime, which would be rectilinear in a flat spacetime.

In general relativity, the effects of gravitation are ascribed to spacetime curvature instead of a force. The starting point for general relativity is the equivalence principle, which equates free fall with inertial motion and describes free-falling inertial objects as being accelerated relative to non-inertial observers on the ground.[19][20] In Newtonian physics, however, no such acceleration can occur unless at least one of the objects is being operated on by a force.

Einstein proposed that spacetime is curved by matter, and that free-falling objects are moving along locally straight paths in curved spacetime. These straight paths are called geodesics. Like Newton's first law of motion, Einstein's theory states that if a force is applied on an object, it would deviate from a geodesic. For instance, we are no longer following geodesics while standing because the mechanical resistance of the Earth exerts an upward force on us, and we are non-inertial on the ground as a result. 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:


The tests of general relativity included the following:[21]

  • General relativity accounts for the anomalous perihelion precession of Mercury.[22]
  • The prediction that time runs slower at lower potentials (gravitational time dilation) has been confirmed by the Pound–Rebka experiment (1959), the Hafele–Keating experiment, and the GPS.
  • The prediction of the deflection of light was first confirmed by Arthur Stanley Eddington from his observations during the Solar eclipse of 29 May 1919.[23][24] Eddington measured starlight deflections twice those predicted by Newtonian corpuscular theory, in accordance with the predictions of general relativity. However, his interpretation of the results was later disputed.[25] More recent tests using radio interferometric measurements of quasars passing behind the Sun have more accurately and consistently confirmed the deflection of light to the degree predicted by general relativity.[26] See also gravitational lens.
  • The time delay of light passing close to a massive object was first identified by Irwin I. Shapiro in 1964 in interplanetary spacecraft signals.
  • Gravitational radiation has been indirectly confirmed through studies of binary pulsars. On 11 February 2016, the LIGO and Virgo collaborations announced the first observation of a gravitational wave.
  • Alexander Friedmann in 1922 found that Einstein equations have non-stationary solutions (even in the presence of the cosmological constant). In 1927 Georges Lemaître showed that static solutions of the Einstein equations, which are possible in the presence of the cosmological constant, are unstable, and therefore the static Universe envisioned by Einstein could not exist. Later, in 1931, Einstein himself agreed with the results of Friedmann and Lemaître. Thus general relativity predicted that the Universe had to be non-static—it had to either expand or contract. The expansion of the Universe discovered by Edwin Hubble in 1929 confirmed this prediction.[27]
  • The theory's prediction of frame dragging was consistent with the recent Gravity Probe B results.[28]
  • General relativity predicts that light should lose its energy when traveling away from massive bodies through gravitational redshift. This was verified on earth and in the solar system around 1960.

Gravity and quantum mechanics

In the decades after the publication of the theory of general relativity, it was realized that general relativity is incompatible with quantum mechanics.[29] It is possible to describe gravity in the framework of quantum field theory like the other fundamental interactions, 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.[30][31] This reproduces general relativity in the classical limit. However, this approach fails at short distances of the order of the Planck length,[29] where a more complete theory of quantum gravity (or a new approach to quantum mechanics) is required.

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Swaartekrag
Alemannisch: Gravitation
አማርኛ: ግስበት
العربية: جاذبية
aragonés: Gravedat
অসমীয়া: মহাকৰ্ষণ
asturianu: Gravedá
azərbaycanca: Cazibə qüvvəsi
বাংলা: মহাকর্ষ
Bân-lâm-gú: Tiōng-le̍k
башҡортса: Гравитация
беларуская: Гравітацыя
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Гравітацыя
български: Гравитация
Boarisch: Schwaakroft
bosanski: Gravitacija
brezhoneg: Gravitadur
català: Gravetat
Чӑвашла: Гравитаци
čeština: Gravitace
chiShona: Gunganidzo
Cymraeg: Disgyrchiant
Deutsch: Gravitation
Ελληνικά: Βαρύτητα
español: Gravedad
Esperanto: Gravito
estremeñu: Gravedá
euskara: Grabitazio
فارسی: گرانش
Fiji Hindi: Gravitation
français: Gravitation
Gaeilge: Imtharraingt
Gaelg: Ym-hayrn
Gàidhlig: Iom-tharraing
galego: Gravidade
한국어: 중력
hrvatski: Gravitacija
বিষ্ণুপ্রিয়া মণিপুরী: অভিকর্ষ
Bahasa Indonesia: Gravitasi
interlingua: Gravitation
íslenska: Þyngdarafl
עברית: כבידה
Jawa: Gravitasi
ಕನ್ನಡ: ಗುರುತ್ವ
ქართული: გრავიტაცია
қазақша: Гравитация
Kiswahili: Graviti
kurdî: Rakêş
Кыргызча: Тартылуу
latviešu: Gravitācija
Lëtzebuergesch: Gravitatioun
lietuvių: Gravitacija
Limburgs: Zwaordjekraf
la .lojban.: maircpukai
magyar: Gravitáció
македонски: Гравитација
მარგალური: გრავიტაცია
مصرى: جاذبيه
Bahasa Melayu: Graviti
Mirandés: Grabidade
монгол: Гравитаци
မြန်မာဘာသာ: ဒြပ်ဆွဲအား
Nederlands: Zwaartekracht
नेपाली: गुरुत्व बल
नेपाल भाषा: गेँसु
日本語: 重力
Nordfriisk: Swaarkrääft
norsk nynorsk: Gravitasjon
Novial: Gravitatione
occitan: Gravitacion
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Gravitatsiya
پنجابی: گریوٹی
Patois: Gravitieshan
Plattdüütsch: Gravitatschoon
polski: Grawitacja
português: Gravidade
română: Gravitație
Runa Simi: Llasaturaku
русиньскый: Ґравітація
русский: Гравитация
sardu: Gravidade
Seeltersk: Sweerkraft
shqip: Graviteti
Simple English: Gravity
سنڌي: ڪشش ثقل
slovenčina: Gravitácia
slovenščina: Težnost
Soomaaliga: Cufisjiidad
српски / srpski: Гравитација
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Gravitacija
Sunda: Gravitasi
suomi: Painovoima
svenska: Gravitation
Tagalog: Grabidad
Taqbaylit: Taldayt
татарча/tatarça: Гравитация
Türkçe: Kütle çekimi
українська: Гравітація
اردو: ثقالت
vèneto: Gravità
Tiếng Việt: Tương tác hấp dẫn
Winaray: Hulog-bug-át
吴语: 引力
粵語: 萬有引力
中文: 引力