Some students get confused by scientific language and think that there is no gravity in space

Earth and Space | Forces and Motion


They might think that gravitational force depends on the existence of air/atmosphere.

Diagnostic Resources


The following worksheets may help to identify whether students hold this particular misconception.

For more information, see the University of York BEST website.

Resources to address this

  • How do things stay in orbit?  (5-11)

    Ref - SPT HS03 PN07

    Exactly the same combination of falling and moving sideways works for anything in orbit. The planet, moon, or satellite falls towards the things that it's orbiting. That's the effect of gravity. But it also travels forwards, at just the right speed, so that it the sideways movement compensates for the movement caused by the falling. So the orbiting thing stays the same distance away from what it's orbiting around.

    View Resource
  • Gravity exists in space  (11-14)

    Ref - SPT ES01 TL05

    A major challenge is getting across the idea that gravity is a force that acts everywhere in the universe and is not simply restricted to the surface of the Earth. A more limited view of gravity takes pupils down various wrong tracks.

    View Resource
  • What pushes planets along?  (11-16)

    Ref - Practical physics / Astronomy / Planetary motion and gravity / What pushes planets along?

    Gravity, Newton argued, provides the inward pull acting on every satellite. The acceleration due to gravity is v 2R, where v is the satellite’s orbital speed and R is the radius of its circular orbit.

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Stein, H., Galili, I. and Schur, Y., () Teaching a NewConceptual Framework of Weight and Gravitation in Middle School, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52 (9)


    Review sheet

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