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Smarter Every Day

WATCH: The Archer's Paradox in Slow Motion

FIONA MACDONALD
29 MAY 2015

If you're anything like me, you probably think that an arrow shoots pretty straight - hence the saying 'straight as an arrow', right? But it turns out, that's not the case at all, as Destin reveals so spectacularly in the latest episode of Smarter Every Day, where he sets out to uncover the physics behind the Archer's Paradox.

 

So what is this paradox? In order to shoot an arrow, you need to place it either to the right or left of your bow. But in order to hit your target, you need your arrow to fly in a straight line. So somehow archers manage to curve their arrows around that obstacle in order to hit their target... and as Destin proved in another recent episode, archers are able to hit some incredibly tiny targets.

To figure it out, Destin sets up his Phantom slow-motion camera, and experiments with a range of different bows. What he finds is that the solution to this paradox all comes down to the arrow, which actually isn't rigid at all. In fact, it not only bends once to get around the bow, once it's released, it curves the whole way to the target, creating a wave pattern complete with nodal points through the air, which keeps it on a straight path.

But how do archers know how their arrow's spine is going to curve in order to have such incredible accuracy? That's actually a pretty cool process, which requires some serious science. Watch the episode above to find out, and fully appreciate how talented archers really are.