Travelling Gnome Studying Earth's Varying Gravity
March 25, 2012

Travelling Gnome Studying Earth’s Varying Gravity

A globetrotting garden gnome isn't merely wandering from place to place on a sightseeing tour -- it is actually part of a precision scale manufacturer's attempt to illustrate the changes in gravity that can occur depending on which part of the Earth a person (or lawn ornament) calls home.

According to LiveScience reporter Stephanie Pappas, the project is a collaboration between Kern & Sohn and schools and research centers throughout the globe in order to show how the gnome's weight fluctuates based on its current geographical location.

"Most people don't realize Earth's gravity actually varies slightly," Tommy Fimpel, one of the coordinators of the project, said in a statement, according to LiveScience. "One of the main causes is variations in the shape of the planet. Believe it or not, the Earth is actually slightly potato-shaped, so you'll weigh up to 0.5 percent more or less, depending on where you go."

"We thought our Gnome Experiment would be a fun way to measure the phenomenon," he added.

Pappas said that the gnome, which has been named Kern in honor of the company, travels through the mail and has already appeared in Lima, Mumbai, Mexico, South Africa, San Francisco, New Caledonia, Sydney, and the South Pole -- where Kern weighed in at 309.82 grams, the heaviest amount recorded to date.

"Rather than being a perfect sphere, the Earth bulges in the middle," NewScientist reporter Lisa Grossman explained in a March 19 report. "That means points at the poles are closer to the core than points on the equator. That distance, plus some extra gravity-counterbalancing inertia from the Earth's spin, means that you -- or a gnome -- would weigh more at the South Pole than in Hawaii."

Kern is also scheduled to visit the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN facility near Geneva, Switzerland, Grossman added, and users can request a "visit" from the gnome at the official website of what has fittingly been dubbed the Gnome Experiment.

The website states that those selected to participate in the experiment will receive a Kern EWB 2.4 Scale, a pair of lab gloves and an air duster to ensure accuracy of the results, and Kern the Gnome himself -- and yes, there is only one of him, so the experiment coordinators ask scientists to "please handle" the chip-proof resin garden ornament "with utmost care."