General Question

Ltryptophan's avatar

Can gravity be switched on and off like a light bulb?

Asked by Ltryptophan (9100 points ) February 6th, 2011

Is it possible that gravity on a planetary scale could be “turned off”?

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25 Answers

Ivan's avatar

No, gravity is a property of matter. In any case, even if you could “switch off” gravity, that “information” would travel at the speed of light, so no one else would know about it until that information reached them.

roundsquare's avatar

Seems unlikely. As @Ivan said, its a property of matter. In other words, gravity on a planetary scale is no different gravity on a smaller scale. However, thats not to say that there isn’t a way to access the parameters of the universe. I have no idea how, but maybe its possible to change the constants of the universe. As far as I know, we don’t really know where gravity “comes from” so its possible that it can somehow be turned off.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
PhiNotPi's avatar

Gravity is one of the five basic forces of nature, along with electricity, magnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. There is no way to turn off its pull, only ways to cancel out its effects by applying forces in the opposite direction. Magnets can pick up objects by dominating over gravity. This isn’t hard to do, since gravity is a very weak force. When a magnet picks up a paperclip, the magnetic pull of the magnet is stronger than the gravitational pull of our entire planet.

As a side note, gravity (due to the inverse square law) originating from inside of a hollow sphere cancels out perfectly. However, gravity from other objects inside the sphere is not canceled out.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
JLeslie's avatar

No. But you can create zero gravity for a very short time flying at a specific arc in a plane.

talljasperman's avatar

yes… by converting all the matter in the planet to energy

filmfann's avatar

@JLeslie You of course mean you can simulate zero gravity. You are actually falling at the same speed the plane is descending.
Somehow switching off gravity, or moderating it, is the much sought prize. Know how to do that, and you have flying cars.

JLeslie's avatar

@filmfann Yes, simulate it. But, effecively, for the person experiencing it I think it is zero G? Isn’t it? It is not simply free falling like jumping out of a plane? Is it? I thought people get sick like they do in space and everything.

cazzie's avatar

No. The answer to this question is no. Simulating zero gravity in an airplane is not turning off gravity on a planetary scale.

From Wiki:
Weightlessness (or zero-g) is the condition that exists for an object or person when they experience little or no acceleration away from the acceleration that defines an inertial trajectory, or the trajectory of pure free-fall. The physical path of an inertial trajectory depends on the presense or absence of gravitation. If objects are far from a planet, star, or other such massive body, so that they experience little gravitational interaction, they will experience weightlessness if they are not accelerating. Physically, they follow Newton’s first law of motion which describes linear motion, without forces. The presense of a gravitational field will cause a free body to follow the accelerated trajectory of a free fall in gravity, and weightlessness will also be experienced during any such naturally-accelerated free fall. Such a situation, except for microgravity effects, cannot be distinguished from weightlessness due to absence of gravity from a nearby body.

DancingMind's avatar

Aw come on guys, use your imagination…

Gravity is a result of spacetime bending around objects, right? The objects are actually almost distorting the spacetime. The sun’s ‘gravity’, it’s bending of spacetime, is what causes the planets to rotate around it. They want to go in a straight line, but since spacetime’s straight lines are curved around the sun, the planets wind up going in the ellipses they do. (That’s a simplified explanation of a simplified explanation I saw on a Naked Science episode, “Birth of the Solar System”, so it might not be exactly what’s going on, but it is basically what happens.)

So, if that’s gravity, then finding a switch to turn it off would be finding a way to unbend spacetime around the said objects. Not that that’s any easier to do… it just somehow sounds more do-able than simply saying gravity inevitable so it’s unchangable.
“All” you would have to do is find a way of getting spacetime to somehow ignore the object that bends it! : )

flutherother's avatar

Only if you believe in cavorite the metal amalgam invented by HG Wells.

ragingloli's avatar

@DancingMind
Actually, that might be possible if you use negative energy that Michio Kaku used in his hypothetical warp drive to bend spacetime in the opposite direction, which would create the “pressure” behind the vessel working in conjunction with the “pull” in front of it to move the ship’s spacetime bubble forward. If you can create enough negative energy you may be able to weaken, even cancel out, gravity.

cazzie's avatar

How do you contain the negative energy but still employ its ‘benefits’? Negative energy needs to be contained in some manner, or it will destroy matter.

DancingMind's avatar

@cazzie ahaha—lack of matter will certainly solve the gravity problem!

AstroChuck's avatar

No more than you could turn off the strong and weak nuclear forces.

cazzie's avatar

I find this question something like my 6 year old would ask

DancingMind's avatar

here is a National Geographic clip about time travel. Sounds unrelated, but it is. They’re talking about manipulating light to manipulate gravity to manipulate spacetime. (About 1:55 that concept starts, 2:20 the specific quote, but the whole clip is interesting, I think)
It’s just a theory right now, one theory of many many theories, but all of this type of ‘crazy sci-fi’ stuff is mathematically possible. Maybe we haven’t found the switch yet, or figured out how to flip it, but it does seem to exist.

cazzie's avatar

@DancingMind perhaps in space, far away from the gravitational force of celestial bodies. The question was, ‘On a planetary scale’.

DancingMind's avatar

@cazzie Right. Not yet we can’t.
But as soon as we figure out how to, in some form, some size, manipulate things like gravity, the issues of size and location are only a matter of time.

Computers started HUGE before they were able to get to the size we’re using right now to Fluther. Skyscrapers didn’t exist before people built houses, and then double story houses, triple, and then decided to go bigger. Cars began as bumpy cart pulled by horses, and now are roaring monsters on the roads.

Most anything before it’s discovered/invented is considered impossible, and then it’s found/created. Is this that much different?

cazzie's avatar

We have certainly invented some wonderful things. We have, never before, found a way to defy physics. As beings of mass, we are bound by certain rules for our survival.

Aeroplanes are a great example of something that looks like it shouldn’t work, but it does, because we’ve learned to use physics to accomplish flight, not defy them.

I think the idea of defying gravity, teleportation of some sort, time travel…. it could all become possible if we are able to safely manipulate the physical world. We are fragile creatures, though. We don’t bounce safely and walk away when a plane fails and falls to the ground. We can’t live without taking a bit of our own atmosphere into space with us, and our bodies change under weightlessness. We are susceptible to all sorts of radiation.

The power and manipulation required for creating non-gravitational fields is beyond anything we are capable of creating and beyond what most of us can even imagine. Theories are there. We can’t even test those theories. The best we can work on at the moment is exploring the properties of mass, its make-up and how energy is expressed and released, like they are doing with the LHC and other colliders.

If you are interested in this stuff, support your local school’s science programs. Get those young minds interested in these subjects because they’ll be the one picking up the torch on these subjects.

rowan_lee's avatar

It depends on how you look at it. If you are in a space craft, you can flip a switch to turn of the gravity and float freely inside the space craft, but thats not even full 0-g because the closest body will pull you towards it.

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