Gravity and Mountains Measurements
I just read in "A Short History of Nearly Everthing", by
Bill Bryson, about the historic measurement, in eighteenth-century
Scotland, of the gravitational attraction of a mountain.
Suppose there is a large mountain next to a broad plain. I wonder how
difficult it would be to measure the deflection of a plumb bob by the
I am unable to find any information about how to perform such an
experiment, or whether it is beyond the abilities of a high school student
who wished to do it as a science project.
Sensitive instruments exist for measuring the acceleration of gravity at a
given location. However, these instruments would be too costly and the
analysis too complex for a high school science project. It is possible to
make "gravity maps" of the earth -- that is acceleration of gravity vs.
longitude / latitude / altitude. These measurements are sensitive to
thousandth's of the nominal acceleration of gravity. The measurements are
called "gravity anomalies". The most sensitive of these devices are found
in satellites in a NOAA/NASA project called GRACE (Gravity Recovery And
Climate Experiment). This is a powerful experimental setup because it
provides data not only on position but is able to survey the entire Earth
on a relatively short time scale -- something that has not been available
previously. You can find gravity anomaly maps on the web site
http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/mgg/announcements/announce_predict.html It is easy
to pick out "high gravity" and "low gravity" regions on the earth. The image
can be enlarged with a 'click'. There are other links on that site. In
addition, a "Google" search of "gravity maps" will bring up numerous
web sites with maps and other information about GRACE etc. Perhaps an
interesting project would be to use some more detailed data from GRACE (I am
pretty sure you can find that.) and research WHY a certain location has
"abnormally" high or low gravity. The gravity distribution on the site above
is not at all "obvious" and a proposed explanation could be challenging.
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Update: June 2012