Why does a spinning gyroscope fall slower in a vacuum?

Posted by Mason on May 17, 2023


A spinning gyroscope is a classic demonstration of the effects of Newton's laws. When placed on a flat surface, it spins in circles due to the fact that its center of mass is not aligned with its axis of rotation. It's also known that gyroscopes are unaffected by Earth's gravitational pull. So why does a spinning gyroscope fall slower in space than it does here on Earth? This question has been debated by many students and teachers over the years, but there is no definitive answer as to why this phenomenon occurs. In this article we'll explore some possible explanations for why this happens and look at how they relate to each other mathematically:

Why does a spinning gyroscope fall slower in a vacuum?

Gravity is a force. A spinning gyroscope has two different kinds of motion that are moving it through space: it's spinning and it's falling. When you spin something in a vacuum, the air gets pushed out of the way of its movement, so there's less resistance to the spinning. This means that when the gyroscope falls faster in a vacuum than it does on Earth (because gravity is pulling down), its speed increases until there's enough air around it for friction to slow it down again. However, if this were all there was to know about why gyroscopes fall slower in a vacuum than they do on Earth, things would be pretty boring!

Why does this happen? Here comes some science!

A simple explanation

Our first clue is that the gyroscope is spinning and it's in a vacuum. When you're spinning, you're moving forward faster than if you weren't spinning—it's exactly like how skaters pull their arms back as they spin, so that they can go faster when they come out of the spin. Since there's no air or anything else around this gyroscope to slow it down, it must be going even faster than usual.

This explains why it falls slower than normal: because it's actually moving faster than normal! But why?

Basic physics

When you spin a gyroscope, it has angular momentum—a property of an object that describes how much it tends to resist changes in rotation due to an external torque (which is why it takes so long for your car to stop when you slam on the breaks). The gyroscope will keep spinning because of this property, which means that the center of mass of the system (the point where all its weight is concentrated) will always remain above its pivot point.

If there's no air resistance, then all forces acting on a falling object are due only to gravity. Because of this, if we wanted to calculate how fast something would fall with respect to time and distance travelled in a vacuum (like space), we could just use our knowledge about gravity:

The effect on the gyroscope's fall

While it may seem like the spinning gyroscope would fall faster in a vacuum than in air, this isn't the case. When you look at the graph of its vertical velocity, you'll notice it's no different. The only difference is that it has a higher horizontal velocity due to not being affected by drag.

In fact, if you were to take your gyroscope out into space and drop it from an orbiting satellite (or maybe even just toss it off your balcony), its rate of fall would be exactly the same as if there were no atmosphere at all!

The reason why this happens is because there's less drag on both of these objects in outer space than there is on Earth; without any atmosphere around them whatsoever, they're basically weightless and therefore don't experience any friction against anything else around them either way

In conclusion

So, in conclusion: why does a spinning gyroscope fall slower in a vacuum? Because it's spinning! The gyroscope's ability to resist gravity is reduced in a vacuum, so when it is falling and rotating at the same time, it will fall slower than if you simply dropped it.

A spinning gyroscope will always take longer to fall than an unspinning one. It turns out that even though the Earth's atmosphere provides resistance against which we can measure gravity's effects on objects like falling rocks and balls, this resistance is not enough to completely cancel out gravitational forces on small objects such as our spinning gyroscopes.

Gravity's effect on a spinning gyroscope is significantly reduced in a vacuum.

A gyroscope is a spinning wheel with a specific axis of rotation. The axis of rotation is fixed in space, so that the wheel will always point in the same direction as it spins. A gyroscope will also always spin at a constant speed, regardless of how or where you move it.

When the earth's gravity pulls down on you and your spinning gyroscope, it causes both objects to accelerate towards each other—that is, they both fall toward Earth at 9.8 m/s² (32 ft/s²). But wait! You're falling faster than your gyroscope! It has to be going faster than its current rate in order for it not to fall behind you as well!


The fact that a spinning gyroscope falls slower in a vacuum is quite counterintuitive. It seems like the force of gravity should be greater on objects in a vacuum than in air, but it turns out there are lots of other forces that come into play when you have an object spinning near another object (i.e. the earth). The most important factor here is drag, which depends on how fast these two objects spin relative to each other and how much friction they experience as they move through space together (in this case, inside your vacuum chamber).

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