Journal cover Journal topic
History of Geo- and Space Sciences An open-access journal
Hist. Geo Space. Sci., 9, 1-7, 2018
https://doi.org/10.5194/hgss-9-1-2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Short note
09 Jan 2018
The attraction of the pyramids: virtual realization of Hutton's suggestion to improve Maskelyne's 1774 Earth density estimate
John R. Smallwood UCL Hazard Centre, Department of Earth Sciences, UCL, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK
Abstract. Charles Hutton suggested in 1821 that the pyramids of Egypt be used to site an experiment to measure the deflection of the vertical by a large mass. The suggestion arose as he had estimated the attraction of a Scottish mountain as part of Nevil Maskelyne's (1774) "Schiehallion Experiment", a demonstration of Isaac Newton's law of gravitational attraction and the earliest reasonable quantitative estimate of Earth's mean density. I present a virtual realization of an experiment at the Giza pyramids to investigate how Hutton's concept might have emerged had it been undertaken as he suggested. The attraction of the Great Pyramid would have led to inward north–south deflections of the vertical totalling 1.8 arcsec (0.0005°), and east–west deflections totalling 2.0 arcsec (0.0006°), which although small, would have been within the contemporaneous detectable range, and potentially given, as Hutton wished, a more accurate Earth density measurement than he reported from the Schiehallion experiment.

Citation: Smallwood, J. R.: The attraction of the pyramids: virtual realization of Hutton's suggestion to improve Maskelyne's 1774 Earth density estimate, Hist. Geo Space. Sci., 9, 1-7, https://doi.org/10.5194/hgss-9-1-2018, 2018.
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Short summary
Charles Hutton suggested in 1821 that the pyramids of Egypt be used to site an experiment to improve the estimate of the density of the Earth. He had previously estimated the horizontal attraction of a Scottish mountain as part of Nevil Maskelyne’s 1774 "Schiehallion Experiment". I present a virtual realization of an experiment at the Giza pyramids to investigate Hutton’s concept. I show that such an experiment would indeed have allowed a more accurate mean Earth density to be determined.
Charles Hutton suggested in 1821 that the pyramids of Egypt be used to site an experiment to...
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