Some students think that gravity requires the presence of air (so there is no gravity on the Moon, or in space)

Forces and Motion | Earth and Space


Diagnostic Resources

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

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

Resources to Address This

  • One evening on Mars

    This resource will get students thinking and talking about the nature of the gravitational force.

    View Resource
  • Separating ideas of gravity and atmosphere (11-14)

    Orbiting astronauts are seen to float about in their spacecraft. This is often attributed, incorrectly, to there being no gravity up there in space.

    View Resource
  • Guinea and feather (11-16)

    With air in the tube, the paper flutters down and arrives after the rubber disc. Once the tube has been evacuated, the paper and disc will arrive together. American astronauts on the Moon repeated Galileo's classic experiment.

    View Resource


  • Watts, D. M. and Zylbersztajn, A. () A survey of some children's ideas about force. Physics Education, 16 (6), 360-365.

    Many students in secondary schools have an unclear or incorrect understanding of the relationship between the motion of objects and the forces acting on them; this is particularly true when one of these forces is gravity. The researchers identify a range of student misconceptions and suggest that teachers need to use these as starting points to develop activities which challenge students to overcome them.

    Paper digest

  • Dilber, R., Karaman, I. and Duzgun, B. () High school students' understanding of projectile motion concepts. Educational Research and Evaluation, 15 (3), 203-222.

    Addressing misconceptions students have about motion can be difficult, especially more complex ideas such as projectile motion. This study demonstrates that interventions can be effective if they are designed to challenge misconceptions explicitly. Simulations can be very beneficial in this process as they allow students to more easily visualise forces and discuss how they affect motion.

    Paper digest

  • Graham, T. and Berry, J. () Students' intuitive understanding of gravity. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 24 (3), 473-478.

    This study administered a questionnaire to a sample of 202 students in the UK between the ages of 16 and 18 from a range of city and rural comprehensive schools, private schools and sixth-form colleges.

  • Osborne, R. () "Building on Children's Intuitive Ideas" in R. Osborne & P. Freyberg (Eds.), Learning in Science. Heinemann, Auckland, 41-51.

  • Lie, S., Sjoberg, S., Ekeland, P. R. and Enge, M. () Ideas in Mechanics - A Norwegian Study The Many Faces of Teaching and Learning Mechanics in Secondary and Early Tertiary Education, Proceedings of a Conference on Physics Education. 20-25 August; GIREP/SVO/UNESCO, WCC, Utrecht.

  • Minstrell, J. () Explaining the "At Rest" Condition of an Object. The Physics Teacher, 20 (1), 10-14.

    This study investigated students' (14-18) explanations for stationary objects in an affluent Seattle suburb. Students drew diagrams of the forces involved in various scenarios, such as books at rest on a table, multiple books held by hand, a book hanging from a spring and a book on a table that is either stationary or depressing. The study recorded student discussions, homework and pre- and post-instruction tests.

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