Da Vinci's Forgotten Experiments Almost Decoded Gravity Centuries Ago

Da Vinci’s Forgotten Experiments Almost Decoded Gravity Centuries Ago

In 1907, Albert Einstein presented the world with a startling truth about our universe. Gravity, he realized, is not as strange and mysterious as it seems.

Rather, it’s much the same as acceleration – a force we’re very used to thinking about on a regular basis. He called him the principle of equivalenceand soon this revealing concept will blossom into the mind-bending theory of general relativity. The rest, as they say, is history.

On Monday, however, engineers from the California Institute of Technology revealed a fascinating new plot point about the history of mankind’s gravitational reflections — and it has nothing to do with anyone other than the genius of the rebirth himself, Leonardo DeVinci.

It turns out that not only did da Vinci paint superb masterpieces in the late 15th and early 16th century like The last supper And the Mona Lisa, but was also conducting his own gravity experiments. For years he scribbled equations and drawings about the elusive force that anchors us to Earth, written in old Italian in notebooks such as the recent Codex Arundel.

He even did it in his signature mirrored calligraphy, say the researchers, which simply refers to Leonardo da Vinci’s tendency to write everything upside down for secrecy.

What is particularly striking about these inscriptions is how far Leonardo da Vinci seems to have been on the right track.

In his notes, he had begun to decode the strange correlation between gravity and acceleration – similar to what Lovers Einstein about 400 years later. Leonardo da Vinci’s ideas about gravity even preceded Isaac Newton’s official announcement of the universal law of gravitation in 1687 and Galileo Galilei’s law of parabolic fall, which dictates the behavior of falling objects in a gravitational field, unearthed in 1604.

“The fact that he was tackling this problem in this way – in the early 1500s – shows how advanced his thinking was,” said Mory Gharib, professor of aeronautics and medical engineering at Caltech and lead author. of the study. article published in the Leonardo magazinesaid in a statement.

The Jug of Sandy Water and Other Stories

Here is a quick thinking experiment on the relationship between gravity and acceleration.

Imagine yourself standing in a motionless elevator on Earth. OK, now imagine that you are standing in an elevator in space that is accelerating upwards with a force exactly equivalent to the force of gravity (9.8 meters/second^2).

If there were no windows on those elevators, how would you know if you were in the space elevator or the Earth elevator? You could not.

What if you were to find out if you were in a windowless elevator that didn’t move in space and one on Earth that fell so you felt weightless? Still no.

Weightlessness on Earth in the presence of gravity resembles weightlessness in space in what we would normally consider “weightlessness”. So what is gravity in the world?

Well, at the risk of oversimplifying, it’s just a fancy way of thinking about things interacting while accelerating in different directions.

One way to think about this is that if a ball was rolling horizontally towards the edge of the cliff, once it hits the end of the cliff it won’t really be pulled down by some strange, unseen force. It’s just that there would be no cliff for hold the ball therefore its trajectory, and therefore its direction of acceleration, could no longer be purely horizontal either. The bullet would instead accelerate on a vertical trajectory.

And according to a press release on the recent studyda Vinci was on that last bit.

Instead of thinking of cliffs, however, he was thinking of a jug of water moving along a straight path parallel to the ground, spilling water or sand along the way.

In his notes he specifically states that water or sand falling from the pitcher would begin to accelerate as it fell to the ground and that its acceleration, uninfluenced by the pitcher any longer, would be directed downward.

Movements of water or sand have been represented graphically in diagrams that look like triangles.

“What caught my eye was when he wrote ‘Equatione di Moti’ on the hypotenuse of one of his sketched triangles – the one that was an isosceles right triangle,” Gharib said, a phrase that translated as the equalization of movements, “I became interested to see what Leonardo meant by that phrase.”

And in fact, da Vinci’s work did not stop there.

Three images show how Leonardo da Vinci's idea for a water pitcher was drawn in his notebooks.

A snipper where you can see Leonardo da Vinci’s water pitcher idea drawn in his notebooks.


His notes also suggest that he started trying to mathematically describe the inner workings of falling object over time in general, trying to measure how downward objects have increased in acceleration over seconds. This is also related to the gravitational theories advanced by Newton and Galileo.

To see Leonardo da Vinci’s equations from the artist’s personal perspective, Gharib and his fellow researchers decided to use computer models to run the launcher experiment themselves. Da Vinci had modeled the distance of the falling object as proportional to the exponent 2 to the power of youOr you represents the time it takes for something to fall.

They wanted to see if the numbers matched, although Leonardo da Vinci’s theoretical models did not follow the proportions ultimately established for falling objects by Galileo’s law of falling. (Galilei argued that the distance of the falling object is proportional to the square of you.)

“That’s not true,” Chris Roh, assistant professor at Cornell University and co-author of the study, said in a statement. “But we found out later that he used that kind of wrong equation in the right way.”

Moreover, da Vinci didn’t have quite the same caliber of tools to work with as later scientists for measuring variables like time.

I can’t help but think of what he might have discovered if he lived today, in a world where we have technological marvels like quantum computers, ChatGPT And atomic clocks at our disposal.

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