Did Leonardo da Vinci Discover Gravity Before Newton?  

At first sight, it may seem that Isaac Newton (1643-1727), the renowned English physicist, mathematician, and astronomer, was the first person to discover the laws of gravity, famously summarized in his book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) published in 1687. However, there is evidence that Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), the Italian polymath, artist, and inventor, anticipated some of Newton's insights about gravity and motion by more than a century.

The Parachute Experiment

One of the most cited examples of Leonardo's gravity experiments is his parachute design, which he described in his Codex Atlanticus, a collection of his sketches, notes, and inventions. According to Leonardo, a person wearing a parachute could jump from a high tower or cliff and descend safely to the ground, thanks to the air resistance that slowed down the fall. While this may seem obvious to us today, in Leonardo's time, most people believed that objects fell at different speeds according to their weights, and that heavy objects would fall faster than light ones. Leonardo's parachute design, therefore, challenged the prevailing Aristotelian view of motion and opened the way for a more empirical and quantitative approach to physics.

The Proportional Law

Another aspect of Leonardo's work that anticipated Newton's laws of gravity is his recognition of the proportionality between the weight of an object and the force that pulls it towards the ground. In his notebooks, Leonardo stated that "the weight of any body of known density multiplied by its volume gives its true weight, which is that of the quantity of fluid displaced by the said body" (transl. by J. Paul Richter, 1888). This statement implies that the weight of an object depends on its mass and the gravitational force that acts on it, and that this force is proportional to the mass and the distance between the object and the center of the Earth. This insight is similar to the famous formula that Newton derived in his Principia, F = GmM/r^2, where F is the force of gravity between two masses, G is the gravitational constant, m and M are the masses of the two objects, and r is the distance between their centers.

The Helicopter Design

A third example of Leonardo's gravity experiments is his helicopter design, which he called an "aerial screw" or "helix". This invention consisted of a wooden frame with four blades that could be rotated by a man inside it, who would create a lift force by pushing the air downwards, much like a modern helicopter. Although Leonardo's helicopter was never built, and its aerodynamics were flawed by the lack of a tail rotor or a collective pitch control, it represented an innovative attempt to apply the principle of air resistance to vertical flight, and to overcome the limitations of the classical mechanics that governed the motion of terrestrial objects.


While it is not accurate to claim that Leonardo da Vinci discovered gravity in the same sense as Newton did, it is fair to acknowledge that Leonardo's contributions to the understanding of gravity and motion were significant, original, and influential, and that they paved the way for the scientific revolution that followed. By experimenting with parachutes, proportional laws, and helicopters, Leonardo challenged the dogmas of his time, and showed that empirical evidence and rational analysis were superior to traditional authority and speculations. Therefore, we should not forget the debt that modern science owes to Leonardo's genius, and the importance of recognizing his achievements in the history of physics.

![Diagram of Leonardo's parachute](https://mermaid.ink/svg/eyJjb2RlIjoiZ3JhcGgg


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