History Lesson

“The inverse square law appears to have been inferred intuitively or instinctively without proof by Robert Hooke (John Aubrey “Brief Lives”). Robert Hooke of Trinity College Oxford asked Newton, in a letter, about what force law (in modern terms) is needed for an elliptical orbit. According to Aubrey (who was advised in detail by Hooke), Newton at first got the answer wrong. He assumed that an inverse r law is needed whereas an inverse r squared law is needed. Hooke gave Newton the right answer much later than 1665, so Newton could not have inferred it in that year as the old story goes.”

Tsk tsk, Ron, where did you get all of that schoolteacher-level ‘boiler-plate’ history? Penderghastly? Koestler? Every specialist knows that it was Ismael Bouillaud (1605-1694) who first proposed the inverse-square law; if only to annoy Kepler, with his reciprocal law. In fact, it is all much ado about nothing; mathematical physicists know that one can assume either law in the case of simple orbits. It is just a matter of changing the frame of reference. Stop us if we are getting too technical for you.

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