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Deborah Hardt, McGrew, Nebraska## How Much Does the Earth Weigh?The Wild File, Outside Magazine, March 2001 |

**
Does Anybody Know?**

**A.** Technically, the earth weighs nothing, thanks to that old scientific chestnut that defines weight as a measure of the earth's gravitational pull on another mass.

The real question is: How strongly is the earth and its terrestrial matter attracted to itself -- or, more simply put, what is the earth's own mass? The answer is incomprehensibly huge and impressive enought to toss out with great effect at cocktail parties: 5,972 sextillion metric tons. In pounds, that would be 13,160 followed by 21 zeros.

The figure only came to light a year ago as a bonus factoid while Jens Gundlach, a University of Washington professor of physics, was busy solving a different mathematical conundrum altogether: finding the precise value of the 300-year-old unknown called Newton's Gravitational Constant.

How'd he do it?

The calculations are about as unfathomable as the figure itself, so let's just say he used gold-plated Pyrex dishes, stainless-steel balls, a host of microcomputers, a pen, a notepad, and a cranium full of brains. "The last equation took about ten seconds," boasts Gundlach. "I just did it on a piece of paper."

OK, next time how about the weight of the atmosphere?

The Wild File, Outside Magazine, March 2001

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