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Closing the Loop

Closing the Loop

Testing Newtonian Gravity, Then and Now

(p.262) 10 Closing the Loop
Newton and Empiricism
George E. Smith
Oxford University Press

This chapter argues for three conclusions regarding the impact of Newtonian mechanics on empirical testing in astronomy. First, Newton’s Principia forced the test question for gravitational theory to be not whether calculated locations of astronomical bodies agree with observations, but whether physical sources can be found for each systematic discrepancy between calculations and observation. Second, the evidence delivered by this testing is stronger than it would have been had the sole test been agreement between calculations and observations. Third, the claim to knowledge that Newton’s theory of gravity has had—even after the transition to Einstein—is one of holding projectably to sufficiently high accuracy over the domain of our solar system to establish configurational features that make a difference in orbital motions, and the differences they make.

Keywords:   Isaac Newton, mechanics, astronomy, evidence, gravity, orbital motion, empirical testing, Principia

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