This experiment conducted by English scientist Henry Cavendish in 1797-1798, stands as one of the pioneering endeavors in measuring the force of gravity between masses in a controlled laboratory setting. This experiment played a pivotal role in advancing our understanding of gravitational forces and contributed significantly to the development of Newtonian physics.


Henry Cavendish’s experiment marked a watershed moment in the history of scientific inquiry into gravity. Through meticulous observation and precise instrumentation, Cavendish sought to quantify the gravitational attraction between masses, laying the groundwork for future investigations into the nature of gravity and its effects on celestial bodies.

Experiment Details

In the Cavendish experiment, two small lead spheres were suspended from a delicate wire, while two larger lead spheres were positioned nearby, arranged to be attracted to the smaller spheres. The larger spheres were mounted on a horizontal rod capable of free rotation. By measuring the minuscule twisting of the wire induced by the gravitational attraction between the larger and smaller spheres, Cavendish was able to derive the gravitational force between them.

Results and Significance

Cavendish’s groundbreaking experiment yielded the first accurate measurement of the gravitational constant, G, and enabled the determination of the mass of the Earth. The observed gravitational force between the masses was found to be directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them, thereby confirming Newton’s law of universal gravitation.

Follow-on Experiments

Since Cavendish’s original experiment, numerous follow-up experiments have been conducted to reaffirm and refine the results. These experiments often use more sophisticated equipment and techniques to increase the accuracy of the measurements. Some notable examples include:

Eötvös experiment: Conducted by Hungarian physicist Loránd Eötvös in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this experiment compared the gravitational acceleration of different materials to test the universality of free fall. The results provided further confirmation of the equivalence principle, a key component of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Torsion balance experiments: Similar to Cavendish’s experiment, torsion balance experiments use a sensitive balance beam suspended by a wire or fiber. By measuring the tiny torque exerted on the balance beam due to gravitational forces between test masses, scientists can determine the gravitational constant with high precision. Modern versions of this experiment have been conducted by various research groups around the world.

Lunar laser ranging: This experiment involves bouncing laser beams off retroreflectors placed on the Moon during the Apollo missions. By precisely measuring the round-trip travel time of the laser pulses, scientists can determine the distance between the Earth and the Moon with great accuracy. This data can then be used to test the predictions of gravitational theory, including the gravitational constant and the behavior of gravity over large distances.

These experiments, along with others, have provided consistent results that support our current understanding of gravity and have helped to refine our measurements of fundamental constants such as the gravitational constant.


The Cavendish experiment stands as a testament to the power of precise experimentation in unraveling the mysteries of the natural world. Its results provided a foundational understanding of gravitational forces, paving the way for subsequent research and experimentation in the field of physics. The legacy of Cavendish’s work endures, serving as a cornerstone of our modern understanding of gravity and its fundamental role in shaping the cosmos.