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<   No. 2275   2009-04-19   >

Comic #2275

1 Death of Insanely Overpowered Fireballs: Hey, where did everybody go?
2 Death of Inhaling Hatmaking Chemicals: The hyooniverse got recreated, guv. Everyone got returned to life.
2 Death of Insanely Overpowered Fireballs: So everything's back to normal?
3 Death of Inhaling Hatmaking Chemicals: Well, 'istry got a bit scrambled, but nuffink major.
4 Isaac Newton: Of course! The more alcohol, the less ice. An inverse cube law!!

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The real Newton of course made the most famous uses of an inverse square law, determining that the gravitational force produced by a massive body declines at a rate proportional to the square of the distance from the object.

Or did he? Newton's contemporary, Robert Hooke, himself a formidable scientist (and well worth learning more about if the name is unfamiliar to you), claimed to have discovered this relationship before Newton, and that Newton plagiarised it off him. The two men maintained a bitter rivalry for the rest of their years.

History won out in Newton's favour, but the evidence is not entirely unequivocal.

Interestingly, there are places in physics where an inverse cube law actually applies. The most notable example is in calculating the effect of a dipole at a distance. A dipole is most often found in electromagnetism, not gravity, since it involves having two points of opposing polarities in close proximity - a positive and a negative charge, or a north and south magnetic pole. One point attracts objects, while the other repels them, and if you do the maths it comes out neatly that the combined effect falls off as the inverse of the cube of the distance.

If there was something that generated a repelling gravitational force, as opposed to an attraction, then gravitational dipoles would also be possible, and inverse cubes might be more important and better known.

2022-03-11 Rerun commentary: I like to think that Newton here is experimenting with gin. Gin seems to have come to prominence in England about the right time, from around 1695, when Newton was in his early 50s.

(Just ignore the fact that ice cubes weren't invented until at least 1844.)

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