Principia Mathematica, Newton's great work
Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, known as Principia, is Newton’s great work. Read about one of the most important books in the history of science, with extracts taken from the Woolsthorpe guidebook by Dr Patricia Fara. We care for a 3rd latin edition at Woolsthorpe, view it in the Parlour.
In Principia, its full title is the Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, Newton lays out his laws of motion, law of universal gravitation and an extension of Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. It is a book that helped define the Age of Reason and it is Newton’s most celebrated achievement.
He proposed that the universe is mainly empty space criss-crossed by powerful but invisible gravitational forces. Whether tiny atomic particles or giant planets, the attractive pull between two objects is proportional to the product of their masses and decreases with the square of the distance between them.
In 1684, Newton was living in self-imposed isolation at Cambridge. Approached by young astronomer Edmond Halley, Newton answered a question that the curve to a mathematical formula was an ellipsis. Dr Halley asked for his calculation without delay.
Halley continued to manoeuvre with great diplomacy, coaxing Newton through the process of getting the three parts of the Principia finished. Halley went to great lengths to bring Newton’s work to paper, paying for the publication himself as the Royal Society had run out of funds.
British astronaut Tim Peake named his 2015 mission to the International Space Station ‘Principia’.
" Not only does it have the link with space and gravity but also it's a celebration of science and that is what the space station is about now."
On that mission he took pips from Newton’s gravity-inspiring tree, which are now Space Saplings and will be planted at special locations around the UK to share the story of Newton’s science and the excitement of space travel. It completes the circle of the tree inspiring his ideas on gravity, which he then formulated in Principia.