Check this out. Asteroid 2002 AM31 whizzed past Earth on July 22.
At its closest point, it was about 3.2 million miles away, so it wasn’t as if the planet was in any danger, but this video from Space.com gives you some idea of just how fast these things move. The asteroid is estimated to be about the size of a city block.
Sir Isaac Newton gave us gravity.
In the 17th Century, Newton famously saw an apple fall from a tree and wondered why objects always fall down, never up or sideways or diagonally. Although many regard the apple incident as apocryphal, there are written accounts that seem to confirm that it really happened; the apple did not, however, hit him on the head.
He used the Latin word gravitas, or weight, to describe the force that draws fallen items to the lowest possible point. From there, we got the word “gravity.”
Newton was a scientist of wide-ranging interests, but he is best known for the apple and for his three universal laws of motion. Simply stated, they are:
– An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.
– Force applied to an object equals the rate of change of its momentum over time.
– For every action there is an equal but opposite reaction.
But despite Newton’s brilliance and understanding of earthly and celestial gravity, he could not calculate the precise path of a projectile under gravity and subject to air resistance.
No one could. Not with absolute precision (although computers have come darn close).
Shouryya Ray, 16, an Indian-born student now living in Germany, has cracked Newton’s riddle, according to Fox News. As if that wasn’t enough, he solved another dynamics problem, as well, this one dating back to the 19th Century.
Ray and his family moved to Germany when he was 12. By then, he’d already mastered calculus; his father had taught him that when Shouryya was only 6.
When Ray heard about the unsolvable problems, he told reporters, he thought to himself, “There’s no harm in trying.”
So he did. He worked on the problems as part of a school project and came up with solutions.
He didn’t get much respect, though: Even though he solved issues that generations of mathematicians had failed to do, his paper on his findings only took second place “in the math and informatics category of Germany’s Jugend Forscht student science competition” earlier this month, according to MSNBC.
To be fair, not everyone believes Ray’s solutions are accurate.
“This story seems rather suspicious,” Richard Fitzpatrick, a physicist at the University of Texas, told MSNBC. ”None of the news reports give any details of the calculation. None of the people who hailed Shouryya Ray as a genius are scientists, and none of them give the impression that they have seen the calculation in question. It is impossible to gauge the scientific merit of the calculation until it is made public.”
Simon Catterall, a Syracuse University physicist, also downplayed Ray’s efforts, telling MSNBC that being able to plot trajectories of falling objects isn’t that important.
“The background given in the article seems genuine enough,” he said, “so it may indeed be true, but I haven’t heard anything about a new solution to a Newtonian problem on the grapevine.”