Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V18, Page 907 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: it!
LAWS OF MOTION. Before the time of Galileo (1564–1642) hardly any attention had been paid to a scientific study of the motions of terrestrial bodies. With regard to celestial bodies, however, the case was different. The regularity of their diurnal revolutions could not escape notice, and a good deal was known 2000 years ago about the motions of the sun and moon and planets among the stars. For the statement of the motions of these bodies uniform motion in a circle was employed as a fundamental type, combinations of motions of this type being constructed to fit the observations. This procedure—which was first employed by the great Greek astronomer Hipparchus (2nd century B.c.), and developed by Ptolemy three centuries later—did not afford any law connecting the motions of different bodies. Copernicus (1473–1543) employed the same system, and greatly simplified the application of it, especially by regarding the earth as rotating and the sun as the centre of the solar system. Kepler (1571–163o) was led by his study of the planetary motions to reject this method of statement as inadequate, and it is in fact incapable of giving a complete representation of the motions in question. In 1609 and 1619 Kepler published his new laws of planetary motion, which were subsequently shown by Newton to agree with the results obtained by experiment for the motion of terrestrial bodies. The earliest recorded systematic experiments as to the motion of falling bodies were made by Galileo at Pisa in the latter years of the 16th century. Bodies of different substances wereemployed, and slight differences in their behaviour accounted for by the resistance of the air. The result obtained was that any body allowed to fall from rest would, in aAccelerat vacuum, move relatively to the earth with constant ofQraara ?" ~ 3' of vity. acceleration; that is to say, would move in a straight line, in such a manner that its velocity would increase by equal amounts in any two equal times. This result is very nearly correct, the deviations being so small as to be almost beyond the reach of direct measurement. It has since been discovered, however, that the magnitude of the acceleration in question is not exactly the same at different places on the earth, the range of variation amounting to about 1 %. Galileo proceeded to measure the motion of a body on a smooth, fixed, inclined plane, and found that the law of constant acceleration along the line of slope of the plane still held, the acceleration decreasing in magnitude as the angle of inclination was reduced; and he inferred that a body, moving on a smooth horizontal plane, would move with uniform velocity in a straight line if the resistance of the air, and friction due to contact with the plane, could be eliminated. He went on to deal with the case of projectiles, and was led to the conclusion that the motion in this case could be regarded• as the result of superposing a horizontal motion with uniform velocity and a vertical motion with constant acceleration, the latter identical with that of a merely falling body; the inference being that the path of a projectile would be a parabola except for deviations attributed to contact with the air, and that in a vacuum this path would be accurately followed. The method of superposition of two motions may be illustrated by such examples as that of a body dropped from the mast of a ship moving at uniform speed. In this case it is found that the body falls relatively to the ship as if the latter were at rest, and alights at the foot of the mast, having consequently pursued a parabolic path relatively to the earth. The importance of these results, limited though their scope was, can hardly be overrated. They had practically the effect of suggesting an entirely new view of the subject, namely, that a body uninfluenced by other matter might be expected to move, relatively to some base or other, with uniform velocity in a straight line; and that, when it does not move in this way, its acceleration is the feature of its motion which the surrounding conditions determine. The acceleration of a falling body is naturally attributed to the presence of the earth; and, though the body approaches the earth in the course of its fall, it is easily recognized that the conditions under which it moves are. only very slightly affected by this approach. Moreover, Galileo recognized, to some extent at any rate, the principle of simple superposition of velocities and accelerations due to different sets of circumstances, when these are combined (see MECHANICS). The results thus obtained apply to the motion of a small body, the rotation of which is disregarded. When this case has been sufficiently studied, the motion of any system can be dealt with by regarding it as built up of small portions. Such portions, small enough for the position and motion of each to be sufficiently specified by those of a point, are called " particles." Descartes helped to generalize and establish the notion of the fundamental character of uniform motion in a straight line, but otherwise his speculations did not point in the direc- Centrifugal tion of sound progress in dynamics; and the next Force. substantial advance that was made in the principles of the subject was due to Huygens (1629–1695). He attained correct views as to the character of centrifugal force in connexion with Galileo's theory; and, when the fact of the variation of gravity (Galileo's acceleration) in different latitudes first became known from the results of pendulum experiments, he at. once perceived the possibility of connecting such a variation with the fact of the earth's diurnal rotation relatively to the stars. He made experiments, simultaneously with Wallis and Wren, on the collision of hard spherical bodies, and his statement of the .results (1669) included a clear enunciation of the conservation of linear momentum, as demonstrated for these cases of collision, and apparently correct in certain other cases, mass being estimated by weight. But Huygens's most important contribution to the subject was his investigation, published in 1673, of the motion of a rigid pendulum of any form. This is the earliest example of a theoretical investigation of the rotation of rigid bodies. It involved the adoption of a point of view as to the relation between the motions of bodies of different forms, which practically amounted to a perception of the principle of energy as applied to the case in question. We owe to Newton (16421727) the consolidation of the views which were current in his time into one coherent and universal Galileo- system, sometimes called the Galileo-Newton theory, Newton but commonly known as the " laws of motion "; Theory. and the demonstration of the fact that the motions of the celestial bodies could be included in this theory by means of the law of universal gravitation. A full account of his results was first published in the Principia in 1687. Such statements as that a body moves in a straight line, and that it has a certain velocity, have no meaning unless the base, relative to which the motion is to be reckoned, is defined. Accordingly, in the extension of Galileo's results for the purpose of a universal theory, the establishment of a suitable base of reference is the first step to be taken. Newton assumed the possibility of choosing a base such that, relatively to it, the motion of any particle would have only such divergence from uniform velocity in a straight line as could be expressed by laws of acceleration dependent on its relation to other bodies. He used the term " absolute motion " for motion relative to such a base. Many writers on the subject distinguish such a base as " fixed.'.' The name " Newtonian base " will be used in this article. Assuming such a base to exist, Newton admitted at the outset the difficulty of identifying it, but pointed out that the key to the situation might be found in the identification of forces; that is to say, in the mutual character of laws of acceleration as applied to any given body and any other by whose presence its motion is influenced. In this connexion he took an important step by distinguishing clearly the character of " mass " as a universal property of bodies distinct from weight. There can be no doubt that the development of correct views as to mass was closely connected with the results of experiments with regard to the collision of hard bodies. Suppose two small smooth spherical bodies which can be regarded as particles to be brought into collision, so that the velocity of each, relative to any base which is unaffected by the collision, is suddenly changed. The additions of velocity which the two bodies receive respectively, relative to such a base, are in opposite directions, and if the bodies are alike their magnitudes are equal. If the bodies though of the same substance are of different sizes, the magnitudes of the additions of velocity are found to be inversely proportional to the volumes of the bodies. But if the bodies are of different substances, say one of iron and the other of gold, the ratio of these magnitudes is found to depend upon something else besides bulk. A given volume of gold is found to count for this purpose for about two and a half times as much as the same volume of iron. This is expressed by saying that the density of gold is about two and a half times that of iron. In fact, experiments upon the changes of velocity of bodies, due to a mutual influence between them, bring to light a property of bodies which may be specified by a quantity proportional to their volumes in the case of bodies which are perceived by other tests to be of one homogeneous substance, but otherwise involving also another factor. The product of the volume and density of a body measures what is called its " mass." The mass of a body is often loosely defined as the measure of the quantity of matter in it. This definition correctly indicates that the mass of any portion of matter is equal to the sum of the masses of its parts, and that the masses of bodies alike in other respects are equal, but gives no test for comparison of the masses of bodies of different substances; this test is supplied only by a comparison of motions. When, as in the case of contact, a mutual relation is perceived between the motions of two particles, the changes of velocity are in opposite directions, and the ratio of their magnitudes determines the ratio of the masses of the particles; the motion being reckoned
End of Article: LAWS OF MOTION
MOTION (Lat. motio, from movere, to move)
MOTIVE (from Lat. movere, to move)

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.