Newton, an apple and a space shuttle

Ordnance Survey 1:2500 County Series 1888 – Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire
Sir Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton (4 January 1643 – 20 March 1727) was born in Woolsthorpe Manor and here he made many of his most important discoveries about gravity after returning from Trinity College Cambridge which had temporarily closed as a precaution against the Great Plague 1666-7.

In the garden of Woolsthorpe Manor grows the most famous apple tree in science. Popular mythology has it that an apple fell from the tree, hitting Newton on the head and inspiring the great man to discover his theory of Gravity. Like all good stories it elaborates on the truth.

The story of the falling apple does appear to have some foundation. William Stukeley recorded in his Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life, in April 1726, that Newton, told him of his thoughts when seeing an apple fall to the ground  “… why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground…why should it not go sideways, or upwards? but constantly to the earth’s centre?

He is often regarded as the most influential scientist in history and is most famous for discovering the Laws of Gravity, and the Laws of Planetary motion, although rather than his ideas on Gravity sprouting fully formed from that single seed, he acknowledged his debt to those great mathematicians that had gone before him, most famously in his quote “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. A quote which is now to be found imprinted into the edge of the British £2 coin. A fitting tribute to Newton who also went on to become Master of the Royal Mint.

According to the National Trust, the original apple tree fell over in 1820, but then rooted happily and is still growing today, making it nearly 400 years of age. This observation is not universally accepted. The King’s School in nearby Grantham, stake their own claim that the tree was purchased by the school, uprooted and transported to the headmaster’s garden after Newton’s death.

What is known for sure is that cuttings from the original tree have been planted at some of the worlds greatest universities, including one outside the rooms in which Newton lived and studied at Trinity Cambridge. Other universities known to have cuttings of the famous tree are MIT Cambridge (USA), Monash University Australia, York University Canada and Manchester University.

In 2010, a piece of the famous apple tree from Woolsthorpe Manor was launched into space on the Space Shuttle Atlantis, nearly 350 years after Newton wrote his influential work. An act of defying gravity only made possible by the genius of Sir Isaac Newton.

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