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Atomic Mass

What tool is used to determine mass?


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September 10, 2013 10:34PM

Most often on Earth, either a pan-balance or a scale is used. As long as you stay on

the same planet and know the acceleration of gravity there, the easiest method is to

measure weight, and then calculate mass from it.

You just have to remember that if you go to another planet, the weights of all the masses

will change, so you'll have to know the acceleration of gravity in the place where you are.

You'd have to be extra careful in space. If your spacecraft is coasting, then nothing in

it has any weight. And during a rocket-engine burn, or if it's falling toward a planet, the

weight of things inside depends on the rate of acceleration. If there's any acceleration

at all, then you could use a pan balance to compare your unknown object against the

marked, standard masses that you carry in a little felt-lined mahogany box. But you

can't use a plain old bathroom scale at all in space, because it's calibrated for gravity

on Earth. So it would read some number if you're accelerating, but the number wouldn't

tell you anything.