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GRAVITY

Principia Mathematica, 5 July, 1687 The day when the most important work in the history of
Science came into picture. And from there it has been a whole new journey to paint it in a way
that is immensely beautiful. It was indeed a giant leap towards encoding equations behind the
very secrets of nature.
One of them was Newtons Universal law of gravitation. As we all know it simply states that any two
bodies in this universe attract each other with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their
masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Well, but how much we
really understand this law. Why is it always attractive? What is the speed of gravity? Is gravitational mass
equal to inertial mass? Why is the exponent of distance, 2, and not 1.99 or 2.01 or some irrational number?
According to Newton, as theory says, gravity is always attractive since mass is always positive unlike
charges. Now, gravitational mass is something that determines the strength of gravitational force acting
on the body and inertial mass determines its resistance to accelerate when a force is applied on it. In
Newtonian theory, there is universality of free fall. Inertial mass and gravitational mass must, therefore,
be proportional with a proportionality constant that is same for all the bodies. Gravitational mass thus
can be defined to be equal to the inertial mass for one body, say, the standard kilo-gram in Sevres, France.
Newton believed that gravitational fields propagate instantaneously and in no time everywhere. Though
Einstein, in his special theory of relativity (STR), postulated that no interaction in the nature can happen
faster than the speed of light. And it applies to fundamental forces too. That would mean that if Sun
vanishes now, Earth would still be in its orbit for about 8min & 20sec before flying off tangentially. It
sounds unbelievable but thats what should happen theoretically. Speed of gravity has also been
experimentally verified and found to be very near to that of speed of light.
A great advancement in the theory of gravity was the General Theory of Relativity by Einstein in 1915.
It is a geometric theory of gravity and according to it gravitation is not a force but the consequence of the
distortion in the space-time fabric.
But GR does not predict the nature of the gravity. The possibility of even repulsive gravity may arise here
because, according to general relativity, gravitational fields are produced not just by energy or mass
densities, but also by pressures. And so a large negative pressure may cause a repulsive gravity.
A useful starting point in motivating GR was the Equivalence Principle. Einsteins Equivalence principle
is the idea that no experiment can distinguish a uniform acceleration from a uniform gravitational field.
For example, suppose you are inside an isolated elevator that is moving with an acceleration g. Now
suppose you hold out a coin & release it. Since there is no force acting on the coin the relative acceleration
with which the coin and the surface of the elevator will approach each other will be g only. And thus you
as an observer inside the elevator will see the coin falling with an acceleration g. It is the same thing that
you will observe when youll release a coin in a uniform gravitational field of magnitude g. You can never
distinguish between the two situations and thats what this principle says.

Considering again the question of equality of inertial and gravitational mass, infact there is absolutely no
reason why they have to be the same, but according to the best experiments physicists have been able to
perform, they are. Experiments show that all bodies fall with the same acceleration in a gravitational field.
For Einsteins equivalence principle to hold it is necessary that inertial and gravitational masses are exactly
equal. Otherwise, whole general relativity would crumble apart. But fortunately it has not yet.
This equality between inertial mass and gravitational mass is truly remarkable. In Newtonian theory, it
appears as an isolated unexplained experimental fact. However, it is this experimental fact that allows a
geometric theory of gravity and underlies general relativity.
Today, 100 years after GR, we have come a long way along the path of understanding our universe but
still theres a lot & lot more to understand. It has indeed revolutionized how we think about space, time,
mass, energy and gravity. And in the future, GR will continue to shape the efforts of physicists,
cosmologists and astronomers far into the future.
For example, researchers will keep using the theory to gain a better understanding of black holes, neutron
stars and other celestial bodies and phenomena. Scientists will also continue probing the nature of dark
energy and dark matter, in an effort to understand the universe at the broadest scales. Finally, and
perhaps most excitingly, researchers will keep trying to unify general relativity with quantum mechanics,
to marry the world of the very large with that of the very small. This grand and longed-for "theory of
everything" has eluded physicists thus far, but physicists do believe that there must be such a theory.