Newton's gravitational constant may not be constant
(May 2002)


This story is one that we present with severe reservations. The claims made by Mikhail Gershteyn, a visiting scientist at the MIT plasma Science and Fusion center do not accord with usual theory, but more importantly, some physicists say that if his claims are correct, then something that looks very like perpetual motion may be possible. The key point is that Gershteyn says he has detected away in which the universe's uneven, an effect called anisotropy. According to his results, the effects of gravitation vary, depending on which way you measure them.

The story goes back to Sir Isaac Newton, who worked out in 1687 that the force of gravity between two bodies is proportional to the product of their mass, divided by the square of the distance between their centers of mass. fly introducing a constant (G, the universal gravitational constant), we can write a mathematical equation:

F = G M1M2/r2

The value of C was first calculated by Henry Cavendish, using an ingenious apparatus designed by John Michell, but while we call it the universal gravitational constant, Gershteyn claims that the value of G can vary by as much as 0.054%, depending on the direction in which it is measured. He announced this in early May, and it has since been published in the June issue of the journal Gravitation and Cosmology.

This is a peer-reviewed journal, and while the peer review process can fail, that is unusual, so for the moment, it would be wise to assume that there is something in what Gershteyn says, though it would also be wise to watch and wait for the moment. He says that he and his colleagues and I have successfully experimentally demonstrated that the force of gravitation between two test bodies varies with their orientation in space,relative to a system of distant stars, according to press reports.

He claims his finding that G varies depending on orientation of the two gravitating bodies relative to a system of fixed stars is a direct challenge to Newton's views. This is either a sign of genius, or a sign of delusion: many people delude themselves that they have contradicted one of the 'greats' like Newton or Einstein, but only the truly great will ever do just that - and it remains possible that Gershteyn fits that category. Only time will reveal his true status.

The 'perpetual motion' argument is an interesting one. Given a gravitational anisotropy, say skeptical physicists, an arrangement of two pendula at right angles could be used to extract 'free' energy, which means that the claim must be false, since it appears to be a totally unchangeable law that perpetual motion is impossible. Others argue that the device would not demonstrate true perpetual motion, but would simply milk the acquired energy from somewhere outside the pendulum system.

It seems that there will need to be more evidence and more testing before there will be any real consensus on Gershteyn's claims. If he is wrong, he may well disappear without trace, but if he is right, we will be hearing a great deal more about him.

©WebsterWorld Pty Ltd/contributors 2002


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