Although inertial mass, passive gravitational mass and active gravitational mass are conceptually distinct, no experiment has ever unambiguously demonstrated any difference between them. In classical mechanics, Newton's third law implies that active and passive gravitational mass must always be identical (or at least proportional), but the classical theory offers no compelling reason why the gravitational mass has to equal the inertial mass. That it does is merely an empirical fact.

Given this force, the acceleration of the object can be determined by Newton's second law:

Astronaut David Scott performs the feather and hammer drop experiment on the Moon

An early use of this relationship is a balance scale, which balances the force of one object's weight against the force of another object's weight. The two sides of a balance scale are close enough that the objects experience similar gravitational fields. Hence, if they have similar masses then their weights will also be similar. This allows the scale, by comparing weights, to also compare masses.

Distance traveled by a freely falling ball is proportional to the square of the elapsed time

Galileo found that for an object in free fall, the distance that the object has fallen is always proportional to the square of the elapsed time:

Galileo had shown that objects in free fall under the influence of the Earth's gravitational field have a constant acceleration, and Galileo's contemporary, Johannes Kepler, had shown that the planets follow elliptical paths under the influence of the Sun's gravitational mass. However, Galileo's free fall motions and Kepler's planetary motions remained distinct during Galileo's lifetime.

Isaac Newton had bridged the gap between Kepler's gravitational mass and Galileo's gravitational acceleration, resulting in the discovery of the following relationship which governed both of these:

An apple experiences gravitational fields directed towards every part of the Earth; however, the sum total of these many fields produces a single gravitational field directed towards the Earth's center

For example, according to Newton's theory of universal gravitation, each carob seed produces a gravitational field. Therefore, if one were to gather an immense number of carob seeds and form them into an enormous sphere, then the gravitational field of the sphere would be proportional to the number of carob seeds in the sphere. Hence, it should be theoretically possible to determine the exact number of carob seeds that would be required to produce a gravitational field similar to that of the Earth or Sun. In fact, by unit conversion it is a simple matter of abstraction to realize that any traditional mass unit can theoretically be used to measure gravitational mass.

Vertical section drawing of Cavendish's torsion balance instrument including the building in which it was housed. The large balls were hung from a frame so they could be rotated into position next to the small balls by a pulley from outside. Figure 1 of Cavendish's paper.
Massmeter, a device for measuring the inertial mass of an astronaut in weightlessness. The mass is calculated via the oscillation period for a spring with the astronaut attached ()

This equation illustrates how mass relates to the inertia of a body. Consider two objects with different masses. If we apply an identical force to each, the object with a bigger mass will experience a smaller acceleration, and the object with a smaller mass will experience a bigger acceleration. We might say that the larger mass exerts a greater "resistance" to changing its state of motion in response to the force.