Mass and Weight – are they the same or different? Mass and weight are different. Mass is the quantity of matter; it is an absolute measurement of how much matter is in a body or an object. The SI unit of mass is the kilogram (kg). Weight is the force that acts on a mass within a gravitational field. Weight is proportional to the strength of the gravitational field. The SI unit for weight is the Newton (N). The differences between mass and weight are listed in this table below:
|definition||the amount of substance in a body||the gravitational pull acting on a body|
|Does value depend on location?||No||Yes|
|measured by using||Beam Balance||Spring Balance|
|unit||kilogram (kg)||Newton (N)|
Mass and weight can be related by a simple equation: W = mg, where:
W = weight or the weight force (usually used interchangeably), measured in N
m = mass of the object, measured in kg
g = gravitational acceleration on the object due to the presence of the gravitational field, measured in m/s^2
What is Mass?
In physics, mass is a property of a physical body. Mass is the quantity of matter; it is an absolute measurement of how much the matter is in a body or an object.
In other words, it is the measure of inertia of an object i.e. it is the measure of an object’s resistance to change its state of motion.
An object’s state of motion means whether it’s static or moving.
An object with more mass will resist or oppose more to change its state compared to a lighter object. It will be clear with these examples below.
Say a small ball is resting (static) in front of you. You can very easily move it by slightly pushing it with a finger.
Now if we replace this ball with a bigger ball of the same material you will find it a bit difficult to move it with the same push.
Similar experience you will have if you want to stop these balls from moving with some specific speed.
You will be able to stop the smaller ball with less amount of effort compared to the bigger ball.
That means the bigger ball has some property with which it puts forth bigger resistance to change its current state of motion (inertia).
So we can say that every object has a tendency to resist a net force applied to it to modify its state of motion.
This tendency or property of an object is called its inertia.
As it depends directly on the mass of the object we say that mass is the measure of inertia.
As this is a property of an object it remains constant wherever you go. Your mass will be the same here on earth or moon or even in a spaceship.
Unit of mass is Kilogram or Kg in SI.
What is Weight?
Then what is weight? Weight is a force. The weight of an object on earth is the gravitational pull or gravity applied by the earth on that object.
This is the force with which the earth attracts an object towards its center. The unit of weight is Newton in SI. It is generally denoted by W.
The Relation between Mass and Weight
Let’s follow the general formula of force (F = m a), where force F is the product of the mass of the object and its acceleration because as said W is a force.
As the object under gravity undergoes a specific acceleration called ‘ acceleration due to gravity (g)’, we will use this g instead of a to get the formula of the weight.
The relation between mass and weight is like this:
Weight (W) = mass (m) x acceleration due to gravity (g)
So the weight W of an object with mass 10 kg is
W= 10 kg x 9.8 m/s2 = 98 Newton.
Variation of Weight
As weight depends on the value of g (acceleration due to gravity), therefore weight varies whenever g changes.
For example, it’s seen that the g on the moon is about one-sixth of earth’s g. That’s why the weight of an object becomes one-sixth of its respective weight on earth.
Therefore if an object weighs 60 N on earth it will be 10 N on the moon’s surface.
Similarly, an object with a mass of 5 kg will have different weights on different planets such as Earth, Jupiter, or Saturn, due to the different gravitational field strengths or gravitational accelerations.
Even on earth g varies to some extent as we go higher from the earth’s surface (climb a mountain) or go deeper below the earth’s surface (go inside a mine).
So you see even on earth our weight varies. But our mass is the same everywhere. Hope this topic explains well about mass and weight and specifies how these are different.
This is discussed here with easy explanations: acceleration due to gravity and its variations due to height and depth
Note: In everyday life, ‘weight’ can actually refer to ‘mass’. For instance: ‘How much do you weigh?’ ‘70 kg’, might be the answer. Clearly, the unit is in kg, not N. In physics terms, the weight, in this case, is actually 70×9.8 N = 686 Newton.