Gravity illustration

Simulating Gravity on Film

Zero-G refers to weightlessness and means “zero g-force” not “zero gravity” as some would believe. It’s most commonly envisioned as astronauts floating around in space. You can experience zero gravity in a free falling airplane too and in fact, astronauts use these free falling planes to train in a weightless environment.

300 miles above the earth, where the space shuttle flies, gravity is only about 15% less than it is at the surface of the Earth – not much of a difference. You can think of weightlessness either as the absence of gravity (which is basically wrong) or as gravitational force pulling on an object from all sides equally (which is basically right). In this experiment, we’ll change the direction that the gravitational force pulls from but film it in such a way that nobody will be able to tell that the direction has changed. This will give the impression that objects are climbing the walls and floating around in our “weightless” magic box.

The Experiment

This "gravity defying" home is real. It is supported by a single cantilever.  The owners use it as a barn for storage of mineral fertilizers.We will build a box with a camera and light stationary mounted (so they don’t move), pointing into the box, so that when the box is moved, the camera “viewpoint” remains the same, even if we turn the box upside down. Our “point of view” will be changed so that instead of feeling like we are looking into the box, we will feel like we are inside the box looking at the walls of the box, unaware that the box is actually being moved around. Just wait, the effect is really weird…

  1. First make sure the top and bottom of the box are well taped in a closed position
  2. Cut an end out of the box so that we can peer down into the “long view” of the box. In other words, of all the sides of the box, cut out the smallest side.
  3. Attach the board to the side of the box so that it runs lengthwise with the box and extends a foot or so past the end. You can glue it, tie it, or tape it – it just needs to be very secure.
  4. Attach the camera to the board so that it is facing into the box.
  5. Attach the light to the board so that it is also facing into the box. The light will illuminate the inside of the box and allow the camera to get a really good picture of the inside of the box.
  6. Adjust the focus of the camera (use the camera’s macro mode if needed) and make sure the light really lights the inside of the box well.
  7. Drop some items into the box. You can drop coins, car keys, little toys, whatever.
  8. Now pick the box up and hold it so the items drop to the “side” of the box (rather than sitting on the bottom).
  9. Turn the box around so the items slide down one side of the box onto the next side.
  10. Shake the box so the items bounce around inside the box. Try different shakes and jerks of the box so you can go back and watch all the different movements afterward.
  11. Now go back and watch the film. You’ll be surprised to see the objects “climb” the walls of the box, slide across the ceiling, and “float” (when you shake it) in space. The effect happens because the viewer’s perspective is different from what they expect. The stationary camera, attached to the box, is not typically the way we are used to seeing things!

Interesting notes

An astronaut floating in spaceDid you know that if you could get to the center of the Earth and could survive there (it is hot, hot, hot), you would experience weightlessness. That’s because the force of gravity would be the same in all directions and effectively cancel each other out. With a net force of zero, you would be weightless (but hot).

Interesting note about being weightless: Being in a weightless environment produces some pretty interesting effects on a person’s body. Our bodies are used to the gravitational pull on Earth. If you change that up, interesting things happen.

The most common problem a person feels after being in a weightless environment is strangely enough – sickness. Referred to as SAS or space adaptation syndrome, the symptoms include dizziness, headaches, and vomiting (strangely enough too, the exact same symptoms Reeko experiences after many of his “mad scientist” experiments). Typically these effects only last for a few days. NASA refers to the length of time that it takes to recover from these symptoms as a “Garn”. This was named after United States Senator Jake Garn who flew on the Space Shuttle and holds the record for the longest space sickness. Seriously.

The worst effects of long-term weightlessness are the shrinking of your muscles and weakening of your skeleton. This is called spaceflight osteopenia. Astronauts can exercise while in space to lessen these effects. Also, in a weightless environment, your cardiovascular system (heart) will weaken meaning your production of red blood cells will slow down and your immune system will weaken (making it easier for you to get sick). Other bad things that happen to you after being in a weightless environment include runny nose, inability to sleep, and a whole lot more gas in your stomach (stand clear from the returning astronauts!).

Pot of Gold Mini

Experiment Supplies

Supplies: Tape, Cardboard box, Video camera, Wood board, Flash light

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