Aspects of gravity may have been known by Leonardo da Vinci long before Galileo, Newton, and Einstein, according to his centuries-old illustrations.
A photograph of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches of experiments to understand gravity. (Image credit: British Library)Recent research from the California Institute of Technology looked at long-forgotten diagrams in Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.
According to a statement from the university, these notebooks, which have now been digitalized, illustrate tests from the early 1500s of particles falling from a pitcher, proving gravity is a sort of acceleration.
According to the statement, Sir Isaac Newton didn’t develop a law of universal gravitation, describing how objects are attracted to one another, until the late 17th century. Galileo Galilei first proposed in 1604 that the distance a falling object covered was proportional to the square of time elapsed. “The main difficulty for Da Vinci was the limitations of the tools at his disposal. He didn’t have a way to precisely measure the amount of time that items dropped, for instance.”
In several of da Vinci’s drawings, particles spilling out of a pitcher and moving in a straight line parallel to the ground produce triangles. In these experiments, da Vinci discovered that the falling material creates a vertical line if the pitcher moves at a constant speed, but a slanted line if the pitcher accelerates at a constant rate. This slanted line is the hypotenuse of an isosceles triangle formed between the start and end points of the falling material.The drawings also demonstrated how an equilateral triangle is formed when the motion of the pitcher is accelerated at the same rate that gravity accelerates the falling object.
Da Vinci named this phenomenon the “Equatione di Moti,” which translates to “equalisation (equivalence) of motions.”Lead researcher Mory Gharib, a professor of aeronautics and medical engineering at Caltech, said in a release, “What drew my eye was when he scribbled ‘Equatione di Moti’ on the hypotenuse of one of his sketched triangles—the one that was an isosceles right triangle. I felt curious to learn what Leonardo meant by that statement.
Chris Roh, a co-author of the study and an assistant professor at Cornell University, said in a statement, “What we saw is that Leonardo wrestled with this, but he modelled it as the falling object’s distance was proportional to 2 to the t power [with t representing time] instead of proportional to t squared.” “It’s incorrect, but we later discovered that he applied this particular incorrect equation in the right way.”The team replicated the error made by da Vinci centuries ago when modelling the water vase tests.
Gharib stated in the statement, “We don’t know if da Vinci did further experiments or probed this question more deeply.” However, the fact that he was dealing with this issue in this manner at the beginning of the 1500s demonstrates how far ahead of his time his thinking was.”
The journal Leonardo published their findings on February 1. The original experiment plans can be found in the Codex Arundel, a collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s writings that can be viewed online through the British Library.