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Mass, Weight, and Acceleration Due to Gravity
Technically speaking, mass and weight can be easily confused, and in fact, many people may not know – or forget – the difference. While our physical world is governed by laws such as gravitation, momentum, and conservation of energy, the principle of mass and gravity, and the difference between them, are crucial to understanding more complex physics.
So what is the difference between mass and weight?
Well, first of all, mass and weight are used interchangeably when technical definitions are not needed. For example, a person can have 75 kilos of “mass” and 75 kilos of “mass”. The difference lies in the Earth’s gravitational force, which is accelerated by about 9.8 meters per second, or 9.8 m/s2.
What this means is that the mass of an object can be thought of as the amount of “matter”, but the weight of an object is equal to the force exerted by the object due to the gravitational force acting on it. Mass is measured in kilograms, while weight, which is a force, is measured in newtons. Let’s take the example of an average 75 kg man.
If this 75 kg person were standing on the ground, he would exert a force on whatever he was standing on, equal to his mass multiplied by the acceleration due to gravity, or FW = mg, where FW is his weight. -force, m is the mass, and g is the acceleration of gravity on the surface of the earth. – About 735 newtons.
Now what would happen if this same person stood on the surface of the Moon? His mass will remain the same, at 75 kilograms, but his weight will definitely change. The acceleration due to gravity on the Moon’s surface is about one-sixth that of Earth, about 1.6 meters per second. This would make the man weigh about 120 newtons.
So when comparing the two gravity-forces from the Earth and the Moon, we conclude that while the mass remains constant, the weight varies according to the gravitational force acting on the object. The concept of distinguishing mass from weight is important when performing calculations involving static and weight-bearing forces acting on specific structural elements.
An easy way to tell the difference between the two is to remember that mass is measured in kilograms, and is equivalent to the weight that most people are familiar with, such as “how much do you weigh?”, and weight in in the technical sense – contrary to the logic that weight is in kilograms – it is a unit of force and is therefore measured in Newtons.
As I mentioned above, weight is equal to the gravitational acceleration of mass, FW = mg. If you can remember this basic formula, you should have no problem distinguishing the two, because the two are clearly related. A simpler version of this formula is F = ma, which is the standard equation for force – which is the weight of an object times its acceleration.
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