Galileo’s Leaning Tower of Pisa experiment

According to a biography by Galileo’s pupil Vincenzo Viviani, in 1589 the Italian scientist Galileo had dropped two balls of different masses from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to demonstrate that their time of descent was independent of their mass. Via this method, he supposedly discovered that the objects fell at the same acceleration, proving his prediction true, while at the same time proving Aristotle’s theory of gravity (which states that objects fall at speed relative to their mass) false. At the time when Viviani asserts that the experiment took place, Galileo had not yet formulated the final version of his law of free fall. He had, however, formulated an earlier version which predicted that bodies of the same material falling through the same medium would fall at the same speed  This was contrary to what Aristotle had taught: that heavy objects fall faster than lighter ones, in direct proportion to weight. While this story has been retold in popular accounts, there is no account by Galileo himself of such an experiment, and it is accepted by most historians that it was a thought experiment which did not actually take place.

Galileo arrived at his hypothesis by a famous thought experiment outlined in his book On Motion. Imagine two objects, one light and one heavier than the other one, are connected to each other by a string. Drop this system of objects from the top of a tower. If we assume heavier objects do indeed fall faster than lighter ones (and conversely, lighter objects fall slower), the string will soon pull taut as the lighter object retards the fall of the heavier object. But the system considered as a whole is heavier than the heavy object alone, and therefore should fall faster. This contradiction leads one to conclude the assumption is false.

via Galileo’s Leaning Tower of Pisa experiment

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