Happy Birthday, Isaac Newton: Birth of Physicist Who Discovered Gravity Celebrated on Christmas Day

While many people around the world are opening presents and gathering with family as part of honoring of the birth of baby Jesus, some science enthusiasts are also celebrating another kind of luminary: Sir Isaac Newton. The physicist and mathematician was born on December 25, 1642, using the older style Julian calendar, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. (The famed scientist’s birthday has since shifted to January 4, 1963, on the new Gregorian calendar.)

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12_25_2017 Drawing of Sir Isaac Newton contemplating gravity. The tale of an apple hitting Newton on the head is likely exaggerated. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Julian Calendar is named after Julius Caesar, who established the system based off the Roman republican calendar used before the emergence of Christianity. Our modern day Gregorian calendar has been used since being instituted by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, explained the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Born in an English village prematurely, the young Newton was so small he fit into a quart pot and was predicted not to live long, LiveScience reported. But the influential scientist lived to 84 years old, becoming one of the most influential scientists of his time. He’s credited as the father of modern science as his discoveries formed the foundation of physics.

As the science news website explained, Newton was the first to find that white light is actually created from the full spectrum of colors. He also initiated the idea of infinite-series calculus, which is studied by statistics and engineering students today. We can also credit Newton for the three laws of motion, which explain how complex innovations like rockets work or how a simple game of soccer is played.  

 

 

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Probably most notable is Newton’s discovery of gravity, which is rumored to have occured as a flash of inspiration following an apple bouncing from a tree onto his head. This story is widely told, though as The Independent reported, this tale is likely not the full story of how his law of gravity came to be. As the paper explained, there is no actual evidence of an apple hitting Newton on the head in his mother’s English garden (as the story goes). But the paper detailed how archaeologist and friend of Newton, William Stukeley, explained that the physicist did ponder why apples always fell straight to the ground instead of sideways. Newton himself confirmed the apple anecdote, according to the paper, but historians believe it was embellished with each telling.

"Newton cleverly honed this anecdote over time," archivist Keith Moore told the paper. "The story was certainly true, but let's say it got better with the telling."

In 1705, Newton became the first scientist to be knighted, which was performed by Queen Anne. But despite his prominence as a renowned scientist, he lived in isolation for many years, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. The scientist drew criticism from several prominent people including Robert Hooke, a leader of the Royal Society in England. After several negative exchanges with Hook and other prominent figures, Newton withdrew from the intellectual community and lived quietly with his niece and her husband until March 31, 1727, when he died after blacking out due to severe stomach pains.

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