Newton's apple tree bound for gravity-free orbit

May 07, 2010 By MARCIA DUNN , AP Aerospace Writer
In this July 17, 2006 photo, British born U.S. Astronaut Piers Sellers talks with reporters following the safe return the space shuttle Discovery at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Sir Isaac Newton's famous apple tree is about to leave gravity behind. Flying aboard space shuttle Atlantis next week will be a 4-inch sliver of the tree from which an apple fell nearly 350 years ago and inspired Newton to discover the law of gravity. Sellers is flying the piece of wood for The Royal Society of London. (AP Photo/Pete Cosgrove)

(AP) -- Sir Isaac Newton's famous apple tree is about to leave gravity behind.

Flying aboard next week will be a 4-inch sliver of the tree from which an apple fell nearly 350 years ago and inspired Newton to discover the law of gravity.

British-born astronaut Piers Sellers is flying the piece of wood for The Royal Society of London.

"I'll take it up into orbit and let it float around a bit, which will confuse Isaac," Sellers said in an interview with The Associated Press earlier this week.

When Sellers last flew in space in 2006, he carried up a gold medal that the society later presented to British physicist . This time, he told them, "What about something for you?"

The small slice of Newton's apple tree they offered is "from THE apple tree, from the one that he was looking at when the apple fell down and he got the idea," stressed Sellers.

"It's his personal apple tree ... that's really something, isn't it?"

Sellers said the president of the Royal Society assured him the piece is authentic.

"Written on it in very old 18th century lettering is I-S-dot-Newton," the astronaut told the AP. "He had a very nice hand. So I think it is his tree."

It's big enough to see the grain in the wood and is curved, he said.

Sellers will return it to the Royal Society following Atlantis' 12-day flight.

The Royal Society - the national academy of science of the United Kingdom - is celebrating its 350th year. As part of the anniversary celebration, the society in January made available online the 18th-century document detailing Newton's account of the famous apple incident, which occurred in the mid-1660s.

Here's what William Stukeley wrote as told to him by Newton:

"It was occasion'd by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood. Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought he to himself ... Why should it not go sideways, or upwards? But constantly to the earth's center? Assuredly, the reason is, that the earth draws it. There must be a drawing power in matter."

Newton was a physicist, mathematician and astronomer, among other things. He was born in 1643 in Lincolnshire, England - said to be the site of the famous . In 1687, he published his book "Principia" in which he described his theory of gravity and the laws of motion. He died in 1727.

Sellers, 55, who has a doctorate in biometeorology, became an astronaut in 1996. Born in Sussex, he's been a U.S. citizen since 1981. Next Friday's launch to the International Space Station will be his third space shuttle mission.

Sellers also is taking along a flag for the 2012 Olympics, to be held in London.

Explore further: NASA's MMS observatories stacked for testing

More information:
NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/mission-pages/shuttle/main/index.html
Royal Society: http://royalsociety.org/

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User comments : 4

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kevincheriyan
5 / 5 (1) May 07, 2010
I thought the apple tree was more of a myth than a real event.
thermodynamics
2.3 / 5 (3) May 07, 2010
Two issues here.

The first is the title: "Newton's apple tree bound for gravity-free orbit" As anyone who has understood their basic physics course will understand any orbit depends on gravitational attraction. Instead of being gravity free, the vehicle and the earth attract each other (although the earth does not respond much due to its mass). The free fall is the vehicle responding to gravity and falling toward the earth while the orbit makes that fall never ending.

The second issue is the quote: "I'll take it up into orbit and let it float around a bit, which will confuse Isaac," I don't think Newton would be confused at all considering his laws of motion explain free-fall. Newton derived the laws of celestial mechanics:

http://en.wikiped...ki/Orbit

PhysOrg needs to pay more attention to the science.
Scott221
not rated yet May 08, 2010
Hmmm... the comment about the misnomer "gravity-free" title is interesting. I suppose there is no such thing as a "gravity-free" environment anywhere in the universe then, since gravitational forces, as I understand them, extend to infinite distances.

I guess a more-appropriate description of the situation would be a "microgravity environment". That is, when something is free-falling in Earth-orbit the only gravitational effect felt is the small gradient of Earth's gravitational field, i.e. the small difference in the force on the up and down sides of the orbiting object. (I think)
cmn
not rated yet May 08, 2010
Glad my tax dollars are being well spent.

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