The Gnome Experiment

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ScienceShot: Garden Gnome Tests Earth's Gravity

When a scientist can't give you an answer, ask a garden gnome. Researchers have long hypothesized that objects weigh less at Earth's equator because the planet's spin and shape lessen gravity's pull here versus at the poles. (Imagine Earth as a spinning disc. A bean sitting in the center would feel nothing, whereas a bean at the edge would fly off.) Satellite accelerometers have confirmed this, but a digital scale manufacturer decided to test things the old-fashioned way. Enter the Kern garden gnome. When placed on a scale at the South Pole (pictured on the right; San Francisco and Mexico city are left and center, respectively), the intrepid ornament weighed 309.82 grams versus 307.86 grams at the equator, a difference of 0.6%. The gnome's next stop will be the CERN laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, according to Kern Precision Scales, the manufacturer of the digital scale and the sponsor of the gnome's travels. CERN is currently conducting a search for the Higgs boson, the particle suspected of endowing quarks and electrons with mass; a particularly apt place to test a theory related to gravity.

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