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Newton’s Gravity Theory Goes Online

January 18, 2010

An 18th-century chronicle of Isaac Newton’s theory on gravity was made available to the public for the first time via the Internet on Monday, according to the Associated Press.

The chance encounter with the apple is one of the most celebrated tales in the science world. The faded document can be viewed online in its original cursive script, recorded by William Stukeley, Newton’s associate.

Keith Moore, a librarian of the Royal Society said the story has resonated for centuries. It is chock full of information, including an illustration of how modern science works, implicit references to the solar system and even biblical references.

Newton’s account describes the process of observing a falling apple and the principles behind it. He also draws reference to the shape of apple comparing it to the planet, and even recalls the story of Adam and Eve, as Newton would have found it a suitable gesture since he was a religious man.

The encounter happened in the mid-1660s, when Newton withdrew to his family home in northern England after an outbreak of the plague closed the University of Cambridge, where he had been studying.

Stukeley’s manuscript was written on a spring afternoon in 1726, when Newton shared the story over tea “under a shade of some apple trees.” Stukeley recorded that Newton told him the notion of gravity popped into the scientist’s mind as he was sitting in the same situation.

“It was occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood. Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought he to himself … Why should it not go sideways, or upwards? But constantly to the earth’s center?” Stukeley wrote. “Assuredly, the reason is, that the earth draws it. There must be a drawing power in matter.”

The documents, which were lost for several hundred years, were recently discovered in a house in England. The documents appear on the Royal Society’s website along with notes from Newton’s 17th-century rival Robert Hooke. Users can flip through the documents using software that allows them to have the feel as if they were actually flipping through the journal in real life.

The Royal Society, an academy of scientists founded in 1660 to discuss and spread scientific knowledge, is marking its 350th anniversary this year by putting more than 60 of its most important scientific papers online.

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