Does as heavy object fall faster than a lighter one? What about a much lighter one? Check out this video clip where astronauts on the moon find out!
During the Apollo 15 mission on the moon, Commander David Scott performed a science demonstration for all the world to see! He dropped a geologic hammer and a falcon feather and dropped them at the same time. Which do you think hit the ground first?
Scott was testing a famous theory by Galileo Galilei, who said two objects dropped from the same height would would fall at the same rate, regardless of their mass. Legend has it that he tested his theory by dropping different sized balls off the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but this is now thought to be untrue.
In his 1634 book Two New Sciences, Galileo wrote that if it was possible to create a vacuum, any two falling objects would travel the same distance in the same time. He meant that if you could take away other factors, gravity would increase the speed of the two objects at the same rate, even if they were different sizes. That is, they would have the same rate of acceleration. We didn’t have a way to create a vacuum back in 1634 to test his theory, but it turned out that he was correct!
His theory was already proven by 1971 when the Apollo 15 astronauts were on the moon. The experiment had been already been done in vacuum chambers here on earth. But the moon was a perfect place to demonstrate this science principle since its surface is essentially vacuum!
The moon has very little air in its atmosphere, so there was no air resistance and the feather fell at the same rate as the hammer, just as Galileo had concluded hundreds of years before! In a vacuum, all objects fall at the same rate regardless of mass. Way to go, Galileo!
On Earth, where our atmosphere is filled with ntirogen and oxygen and other gases, the hammer would hit the ground first—not because it’s heavier, but because the feather encounters air resistance on the way down. Have you seen a feather fall before? They are light enough, they could even be carried upwards by a gust of wind. That is why it is significant to study gravity in a vacuum. We are able to remove the variables of other forces that might affect what we observe.