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Free fall

Free fall is motion in the Earth's gravitational field when no other forces act on the object.

Free fall is the term used to describe a special kind of motion in the Earth's gravitational field. Free fall is motion in the Earth's gravitational field when no other forces act on the object. It is basically an ideal situation, since in reality, there is always some air friction which slows down the motion.

Experiment : acceleration due to gravity

Aim: Investigating the acceleration of two different objects during free fall.

Apparatus: Tennis ball and a sheet of A4 paper.

Method:

  1. Hold the tennis ball and sheet of paper (horizontally) the same distance from the ground. Which one would strike the ground first if both were dropped?
  2. Drop both objects and observe. Explain your observations.
  3. Now crumple the paper into a ball, more or less the same size as the tennis ball. Drop the paper and tennis ball again and observe. Explain your observations.
  4. Why do you think the two situations are different?
  5. Compare the value for the acceleration due to gravity of the tennis ball to the crumpled piece of paper.
  6. Predict what will happen if an iron ball and a tennis ball of the same size are dropped from the same height. What will the values for their acceleration due to gravity be?

If a metal ball and tennis ball (of the same size) were dropped from the same height, both would reach the ground at the same time. It does not matter that the one ball is heavier than the other. The acceleration of an object due to gravity is independent of the mass of the object. It does not matter what the mass of the object is.

The shape of the object, however, is important. The sheet of paper took much longer to reach the ground than the tennis ball. This is because the effect of air friction on the paper was much greater than the air friction on the tennis ball.

If we lived in a world where there was no air resistance, the A4 sheet of paper and the tennis ball would reach the ground at the same time. This happens in outer space or in a vaccuum.

Galileo Galilei, an Italian scientist, studied the motion of objects. The following case study will tell you more about one of his investigations.

Case study : galileo galilei

In the late sixteenth century, it was generally believed that heavier objects would fall faster than lighter objects. The Italian scientist Galileo Galilei thought differently. Galileo hypothesized that two objects would fall at the same rate regardless of their mass. Legend has it that in 1590, Galileo planned out an experiment. He climbed to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and dropped several large objects to test his theory. He wanted to show that two different objects fall at the same rate (as long as we ignore air resistance). Galileo's experiment proved his hypothesis correct; the acceleration of a falling object is independent of the object's mass.

A few decades after Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton would show that acceleration depends upon both force and mass. While there is greater force acting on a larger object, this force is canceled out by the object's greater mass. Thus two objects will fall (actually they are pulled) to the earth at exactly the same rate.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Maths test. OpenStax CNX. Feb 09, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11236/1.2
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