Galileo’s laws of Motion

Aside from his numerous inventions, Galileo also laid down the first accurate laws of motion for masses. Galileo realized that all bodies accelerate at the same rate regardless of their size or mass. Everyday experience tells you differently because a feather falls slower than a cannonball. Galileo’s genius lay in spotting that the differences that occur in the everyday world are in incidental complication (in this case, air friction) and are irrelevant to the real underlying properties (that is, gravity). He was able to abstract from the complexity of real-life situations the simplicity of an idealized law of gravity.

Key among his investigations are:

  • developed the concept of motion in terms of velocity (speed and direction) through the use of inclined planes.
  • developed the idea of force, as a cause for motion.
  • determined that the natural state of an object is rest or uniform motion, i.e. objects always have a velocity, sometimes that velocity has a magnitude of zero = rest.
  • objects resist change in motion, which is called inertia.

Friction1Galileo also showed that objects fall with the same speed regardless of their mass. The fact that a feather falls slowly than a steel ball is due to amount of air resistance that a feather experiences (alot) versus the steel ball (very little).
Much of this thinking dealt with objects on the Earth. Galileo didn’t extend his ideas to beyond the Earth’s surface, that was for an astronomer named Kepler.

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