Archive for Newton’s Gravitational Constant

Watch “Why the Universe is quite disappointing really – Episode 6” on YouTube

Posted in The Universe and Stuff, YouTube with tags , , on June 30, 2020 by telescoper

I had to suspend the production of these videos for a month or so while I dealt with examination matters, but after that short hiatus, here is Episode 6 during which I explain just how weak and feeble the force of gravity really is. Combined with the fact that the Universe has such a low density (see Episode 5), the weakness of gravity means that the cosmos evolves extremely slowly.

Modified Gravity: Evidence from Cavendish Experiments?

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on January 15, 2019 by telescoper

A paper by Norbert Klein caught my eye as I tried to catch up on my arXiv reading after a couple of days away last week. It’s called Evidence for Modified Newtonian Dynamics from Cavendish-type gravitational constant experiments and the abstract reads:

Recent experimental results for the gravitational constant G from Cavendish-type experiments were analysed in the framework of MOND (Modified Newtonian Dynamics). The basic assumption for the analysis is that MOND corrections apply only to the component of the gravitational field which leads to an accelerated motion of the pendulum body according to Newtons second law. The analysis is based on numerical solutions of the MOND corrected differential equation for a linear pendulum at small acceleration magnitudes of the order of Milgroms fundamental acceleration parameter a0 = 10-10m s-2 for the case of a mixed gravitational and electromagnetic pendulum restoring force. The results from the pendulum simulations were employed to fit experimental data from recent Cavendish-type experiments with reported discrepancies between G values determined by different measurement methods for a similar experimental setup, namely time of swing, angular acceleration feedback, electrostatic servo and static deflection methods. The analysis revealed that the reported discrepancies can be explained by MOND corrections with one single fit parameter. The MOND corrected results were found to be consistent with a value of G = 6.6742 x 10-11 m3 kg-1 s-2 within a standard deviation of 14 ppm.

I have edited the abstract slightly for formatting and added the link to an explanation of MOND. You can find a PDF of the paper here.

I blogged about the discrepancies between different determinations of Newton’s Gravitational Constant G a few years ago here, where you can find this figure:

The claim that Modified Newtonian Dynamics can resolve these `discrepancies’  is very bold and I’m very skeptical of the arguments presented in this paper. It seems to me far more likely that the divergence in experimental measurements is due to systematics.  If anyone else has different views, however,  please feel free to share them through the comments box.

Big Trouble with Big G

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on February 4, 2014 by telescoper

An Antonymous email correspondent this morning drew my attention to an interesting article in the latest Physics World about the trials and tribulations of groups of physicists trying to measure Newton’s Gravitational Constant,  G. This is probably the first physical constant that most of us encounter when we’re learning the subject so it might seem strange that it’s the one which is known to the lowest accuracy. That’s not for want of trying to make the measurements more precise, just that gravity is such a very weak force that it’s very difficult to eliminate systematic effects down to the necessary level.

Just how difficult it is to measure Big G is demonstrated by the following graphic which shows the latest measurements:


Here’s the caption, so you can identify the various groups responsible for the various measurements:

Disagreeing over “big G” This chart shows wildly differing values of the gravitational constant, G, as measured by various high-profile research groups (blue). The values do not agree even within their error bars. Also shown are two values of G adopted by the Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA) as international standards (red). The groups are based at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the University of Washington (UWASH), the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM), the Measurement Standards Laboratory of New Zealand (MSL), the University of Zurich (UZURICH), the Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) and the Joint Institute for Astrophysics (JILA).

Clearly there’s quite a lot of disagreement between recent results, with some a long way outside each other’s error bars. They can’t all be right, but who’s most likely to be wrong? Answers on a postcard.

I’m by no means an expert on experimental gravity so I won’t attempt to suggest who is right and who is wrong. What I will say is that although this kind of research is clearly extremely important it is clearly also fiendishly difficult. I’m not really surprised that the pieces of the puzzle haven’t fallen into place yet. The dedicated teams who have been tackling this problem for many decades deserve the deep admiration as well as the continued support of the physics community. Theoretical physics is generally perceived to be more glamorous and exciting than its experimental counterpart, but the subject as a whole is nothing without its empirical foundations. That said, I’m glad it’s not my job to measure Big G. I have neither the practical skill nor the patience to cope with so many frustrations!