Gravity, Weightlessness, and Apparent Weight

In my classes, I like to bring up the question:

*Why do astronauts float around in space?*

The most common response to this question is that they float around because there is no gravity in space. Some people take this a small step further and say that there is no gravity in space because there is no air in space. This is why they claim there is no gravity on the moon (even though there is – more on this later).

I like to start off with the concept of gravity. Gravity is an attractive force between any two objects with mass. Your pencil and your dog both have mass so there is a force pulling your dog and your pencil (that is if you have a pencil) together. This force turns out to be extremely small. So small that you would never notice it. However, if one of the masses is very large, it is noticeable. An expression for the gravitational force was first determined by Newton. He came up with the following (turning off vector notation for simplicity).

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Where G is the universal gravitational constant, m1 and m2 are the two masses in the interaction and r is the distance between their centers. This force (as are all forces) is really a vector that points from one mass to the other.

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