weight, measure of the force of gravity on a body (see gravitation). Since the weights of different bodies at the same location are proportional to their masses, weight is often used as a measure of mass. However, the two are not the same; mass is a measure of the amount of matter present in a body and thus has the same value at different locations, and weight varies depending upon the location of the body in the earth's gravitational field (or the gravitational field of some other astronomical body). A given body will have the same mass on the earth and on the moon, but its weight on the moon will be only about 16% of the weight as measured on the earth. The distinction between weight and mass is further confused by the use of the same units to measure both—the pound, the gram, or the kilogram. One pound of weight, or force, is the force necessary at a given location to accelerate a one-pound mass at a rate equal to the acceleration of gravity at that location (about 32 ft per sec per sec). Similar relationships hold between the gram of force and the gram of mass and between the kilogram of force and the kilogram of mass.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.