Leonardo’s Lost Sketches Suggest That He Theorized Gravity Before Galileo & Newton

It would be clichéd to describe Leonar­do da Vin­ci as a man ahead of his time. But in the case of the quin­tes­sen­tial Renais­sance poly­math, it may well be one of those clichés firm­ly root­ed in truth. In fact, that root­ing has just grown even firmer with the dis­cov­ery of a tri­an­gle that Leonar­do sketched in one of his note­books, the Codex Arun­del (cir­ca 1478–1518). That tri­an­gle, as the New York Times’ William J. Broad writes, had “an adjoin­ing pitch­er and, pour­ing from its spout, a series of cir­cles that formed the triangle’s hypotenuse.” This image sounds sim­ple, but it reveals that Leonar­do approached an under­stand­ing of the laws of grav­i­ty before Galileo, and well before New­ton.

This find­ing is the work of Morteza Gharib, a pro­fes­sor of aero­nau­tics at the Cal­i­for­nia Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy. Cap­ti­vat­ed by this sketch, he “used a com­put­er pro­gram to flip the tri­an­gle and the adja­cent areas of back­ward writ­ing,” which clar­i­fied what Leonar­do was attempt­ing to do.

His dia­gram turned out “to split the effects of grav­i­ty into two parts that revealed an aspect of nature nor­mal­ly kept hid­den.” The first part was grav­i­ty’s “nat­ur­al down­ward pull”; the sec­ond was the move­ment of the pitch­er itself along a line. That Leonar­do drew “the pitcher’s con­tents falling low­er and low­er over time” implies his under­stand­ing that “grav­i­ty was a con­stant force that result­ed in a steady accel­er­a­tion.”

Along with co-authors Chris Roh and Flavio Noca, Gharib has pub­lished a paper on “Leonar­do da Vinci’s Visu­al­iza­tion of Grav­i­ty as a Form of Accel­er­a­tion” in this mon­th’s issue of Leonar­do — an appro­pri­ate­ly named jour­nal in this case, though one ded­i­cat­ed less to the study of Leonar­do the man than to the study of the inter­sec­tion of art and sci­ence he occu­pied. As Gharib and oth­ers see it, Leonar­do “was far more than an artist and sug­gest­ed that his fame as a pio­neer­ing sci­en­tist could sky­rock­et if more tech­ni­cal­ly knowl­edge­able experts probed the Codex Arun­del and oth­er sources” — the kind of experts who can tell that, with his pitch­er and tri­an­gle, Leonar­do man­aged to deter­mine the strength of gravity’s pull to an accu­ra­cy of about 97 per­cent. Which leads us to won­der: What else about the nature of real­i­ty must he have worked out in the mar­gins of his note­books?

via Art­net

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Leonar­do da Vinci’s Vision­ary Note­books Now Online: Browse 570 Dig­i­tized Pages

Leonar­do da Vinci’s Ele­gant Design for a Per­pet­u­al Motion Machine

How Leonar­do da Vin­ci Made His Mag­nif­i­cent Draw­ings Using Only a Met­al Sty­lus, Pen & Ink, and Chalk

Down­load the Sub­lime Anato­my Draw­ings of Leonar­do da Vin­ci: Avail­able Online, or in a Great iPad App

A Com­plete Dig­i­ti­za­tion of Leonar­do Da Vinci’s Codex Atlanti­cus, the Largest Exist­ing Col­lec­tion of His Draw­ings & Writ­ings

The Old­est Known Globe to Depict the New World Was Engraved on an Ostrich Egg, Maybe by Leonar­do da Vin­ci (1504)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.