Scientists Say: Mass

This is a measure of how much matter something is made from

a photo of a hand holding a grey kitten against a grey backdrop

It’s easy to lift a tiny kitten. That’s because the kitten doesn’t have a lot of mass.

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Mass (noun, “MASS”)

This is a measure of how much matter makes up a physical object. The standard measure for mass is the kilogram. Something’s mass shows how much the object resists speeding up or slowing down when a force is applied. Imagine pushing (gently) against a sleeping kitten. It will begin to move with very little force. The kitten is small, and it doesn’t have a lot of mass. Now imagine pushing against an elephant. It would take a lot more force to make that animal move. Elephants have a lot more mass — they are made of more matter — than a kitten. More mass doesn’t necessarily mean bigger, though. A bowling ball and a balloon might be the same size, but one has a lot more mass than the other.

An object’s mass also determines how much gravity it has. The sun keeps the Earth in orbit because our star has a lot more mass than the Earth.

In a sentence

Galaxies keep a lot of their mass in clouds of gas.

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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