Galileo’s Experiments on Accelerated Motion

A short account of Galileo’s description of his own experiment on accelerated motion — a short account of it, the apparatus he used and the results he got.

The first argument that Salviati proves is that in accelerated motion the change in velocity is in proportion to the time (𝑣 ∝ 𝑡) since the motion began, and not in proportion to the distance covered (𝑣 ∝ 𝑠) as is believed by Sargedo.

“But for one and the same body to fall eight feet and four feet in the same time is possible only in the case of instantaneous (discontinuous) motion; but observation shows us that the motion of a falling body occupies time, and less of it in covering a distance of four feet than of eight feet; therefore it is not true that its velocity increases in proportion to the space. (Salviati)

Also, he proves that the increase in proportion is not of simple doubling but larger. They agree upon a definition of uniformly accelerated motion,

“A motion is said to be equally or uniformly accelerated when, starting from rest, its momentum receives equal increments in equal times. (Sargedo)

To this definition Salviati adds an assumption about inclined planes, this assumption is that for a given body, the increase in speed while moving down the planes of difference inclinations is equal to the height of the plane. This also includes the case if the body is dropped vertically down, it will still gain the same speed at end of the fall as it would gain from rolling on the incline This assumption makes the final speed independent on the profile of the incline. For example, in the figure below, the body falling along𝐶 → 𝐵, 𝐶 → 𝐷 and 𝐶 → 𝐴 will attain the same final speed.

This result is also proved via a thought experiment (though it might be feasible to do this experiment) for a pendulum. The pendulum rises to the height it was released from and not more.

After stating this theorem, Galileo then suggests the experimental verification of the theorem. of The actual apparatus that Galileo uses is an wooden inclined slope of following dimensions: length 12 cubits (≈ 5.5 m, 1 cubit ≈ 45.7 cm), width half-cubit and three-finger breadths thick . In this plank of wood, he creates a very smooth groove which is about a finger thick. (What was the thickness of Galileo’s fingers?) The incline of this plank are changed by lifting one end. A bronze ball is rolled in this groove and time taken for descent is noted.

“We repeated this experiment more than once in order to measure the time with an accuracy such that the deviation between two observations never exceeded one- tenth of a pulse-beat.

Then Galileo performed variations in the experiment by letting the ball go different lengths (not full) of the incline and “found that the spaces traversed were to each other as the squares of the times, and this was true for all inclinations of the plane”. Each variation was repeated hundreds of times so as to rule out any errors. Also, the fact that for different inclines the times of descent were in noted and were in agreement with the predictions.

Since there were no second resolution clocks to measure time, Galileo devised a method to measure time using water. This was not new, water clocks were used earlier also.

The basic idea was to the measure the amount of water that was collected from the start of the motion to its end. The water thus collected was weighed on a good balance.This weight of water was used as a measure of the time. A sort of calibration without actually measuring the quantity itself: “the differences and ratios of these weights gave us the differences and ratios of the times”

Galileo used a long incline, so that he could measure the time of descent with device he had. If a shorted incline was used, it would have been difficult to measure the shorter interval of time with the resolution he had. Measuring the free fall directly was next to impossible with the technology he had. Thus the extrapolation to the free fall was made continuing the pattern that was observed for the “diluted” gravity.

“You present these recondite matters with too much evidence and ease; this great facility makes them less appreciated than they would be had they been presented in a more abstruse manner. For, in my opinion, people esteem more lightly that knowledge which they acquire with so little labor than that acquired through long and obscure discussion. (Sargedo)



Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences

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