Galileo Galilei sculpture

Of feathers and rocks | Day 80

At school, understanding physics did not come easy for me. Either it was too difficult to relate abstract principles to the world around me, or I would misunderstand something about the equations, or just find the principles downright counter-intuitive. I had an excellent physics teacher, which is probably why I’m not completely daft when it comes to the subject. Still, unlike biology, where everything just makes sense to me, in physics I often have to take things at face value.

I distinctly remember one of those face-value concepts being the law of falling bodies. Nearly everyone has heard the legendary (and likely false) story about how the father of modern physics, Galileo Galilei, hoisted himself to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and dropped two differently sized rocks of the same material to show that they would land on the ground simultaneously, and therefore prove that the speed of a falling body is independent of its weight.

However, if you do that right now with a crumpled tissue and a dumbell, it’s pretty clear that one of them will land on the ground first. That’s where the face-value part comes in – we are told that this effect can only be demonstrated in vacuum, where resistance against the air doesn’t slow some objects down. Oh, okay then. It might make sense on paper, and it can be proven with numbers and stuff, but still, we cannot experience it.

Until now.

Because you can trust a BBC science documentary crew to find a way. They are the best on the planet right now when it comes to putting science on TV. When they take to the task, not only will you truly experience the law of falling bodies, but you will be introduced to it by Prof Brian Cox in a stunning, emotional sequence of music, imagery, high-tech NASA facilities… and science.

Until now I have had a rule on this blog about not posting videos, because that’s a cop-out from writing, but I’ll make one exception. It’s day 80, and OH MY GOD you have to watch this. Galileo would have been proud.

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