A fter plumbing the depths of the Pacific Ocean  and boring through the Greenland icecap to test whether  there’s an unidentified force of nature that diminishes gravity, a Jolla scientist is proposing a new setting for settling the question: a gold mining pit.

The experiment is the latest in a series of so-far inconclusive and sometimes real embarrassing efforts to document the elusive force, whose existence would mean that Isaac Newton’s classical description of gravity is in error.

The so-called fifth force, in theory would dilute gravity’s attractive force by perhaps as much as 1 percent over distances of a few feet to a few miles. The goal is so enticing that physicists have scrambled up television towers and jour-neyed to distant, mountainsides to find experimental proof of aberrations in gravity . But the efforts have all ended in frustration because effects of the fifth force would be so subtle they are difficult to measure.

“We think this experiment circumvents the weakness all tho other experiments have,” said Mark Zumberge, geophysicist at UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography . He broached the new idea at the, fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco earlier this month.

The plan calls for measuring the pull of gravity in a bore hole in a Nevada mining site before any dirt and rock is removed, then measuring gravity in the empty space again after a bowl of earth 1,000 feet deep is dug out. The digging will be done by a mining company looking for gold.

If the experiment shows any deviation from the accepted force of gravity, it could mean there is another force, the fifth force, at play. An aberration also could mean, other theorists say, that gravity is just more complex than they had thought.

Previous experiments have been compromised because small deviations could be attributed to attraction from rocks in the area surrounding the measurement.

Not having a clear understanding of the types of rocks under the Greenland icecaps, for example, doomed an experiment there in which Scripps scientists participated. First indications suggested a signal for the fifth force, but a year ago, chagrined scientists said the signal could have been an experimental error.


                                                                                  San Diego Union and

                                                                                  Evening Tribune

                                                                                            12 December, 1989.

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