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By Richard E. Blackwelder

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Example text

Newton’s third law describes why a rifle recoils, or “kicks,” when it is fired. As the bullet fires forward out of the gun barrel (action), the force of the reaction pushes the gun backward against the shooter’s shoulder. Whenever you see a rocket or jet take off, you are seeing Newton’s third law in action. When a rocket or jet engine is ignited, a tremendous amount of force is generated by the hot gases pouring out toward the rear of the vehicle. Newton’s third law tells us that there must be an equal amount of force to balance this in the opposite direction.

But if three or four people push, the car will move much more easily. Why? Because four people can provide much greater force than one can. The greater the force applied to an object, the more it will accelerate. Would it make a difference if your car were a small, lightweight compact or a heavy luxury sedan? Which would be easier to push? The smaller car would move more easily, of course. The more mass an object has, the more force is needed to make it accelerate. A luxury car has much more mass than a little economy model, so it takes more effort to overcome its inertia and get it moving.

If the distance is tripled, there is only one-ninth as much gravitational attraction. This relationship is called an inverse square law. Gravitation is only one of many forces in nature that work according to an inverse square relationship. Other things that follow inverse square laws include light, magnetism, and electrical force. An explanation of why gravity and other forces follow this rule begins on page 62. Notice that the law of universal gravitation measures gravitational force from the centers of objects.

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