Some students think that gravity requires the presence of air (so there is no gravity on the Moon, or in space)
The following worksheets may help to identify whether students hold this particular misconception.
For more information, see the University of York EPSE website.
Previous research has shown that some pupils think gravity is due (at least in part) to having an atmosphere. This question probes ideas about gravity on the moon compared with that on Earth.EPSE Gravity Q16
This question explores understanding of the ‘weightlessness’ observed in Earth orbit.EPSE Gravity Q17
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)
Source - SPT/ Fo03TL07
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)
Source - Practical physics / Force and motion/ gravitational force and free fall
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
The following studies have documented this misconception:
- Minstrell, J. () Explaining the "At Rest" Condition of an Object. The Physics Teacher, 20 (1),
This study examined the explanations given by two classes of high school students in an economically affluent suburb of Seattle for objects at rest. Students were asked to diagram and defend the forces involves in a series of examples including (i) book at rest on a table, (ii) book held by hand, (iii) multiple books held by hand, (iv) book hanging from a spring, (v) book at rest on a table which is shown to depress, (vi) book at rest on a table again. Recordings of student discussions were made, and homework papers, as well as pre- and post-instruction test results were examined.
- Watts, D. M. and Zylbersztajn, A. () A survey of some children's ideas about force. Physics Education, 16 (6),
This study investigated the conceptions of force of a sample of 125 students aged 14. Data was collected using a multiple-choice-with-explanation questionnaire.
- Graham, T. and Berry, J. () Students' intuitive understanding of gravity. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 24 (3),
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.
- Dilber, R., Karaman, I. and Duzgun, B. () High school students' understanding of projectile motion concepts. Educational Research and Evaluation, 15 (3),
This study analysed a sample of 82 high school students (36 boys and 46 girls) between the ages of 16 and 17 using a qualitative multiple choice test on projectile motion. The test was administered both prior to and after a 4-week instructional period. The study took place in the department of physics at Ataturk University, Erzurum, Turkey.
- 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.