Veritasium

Watch: The Physics Behind This Crazy Basketball Trick

OK, we weren't expecting that to happen.

FIONA MACDONALD
16 JUL 2015
 

Let's play a little game called "what happens when you drop a basketball off the top of a 126.5-metre (415-feet) dam?" The answer's pretty obvious: it's going to fall, right? But what happens if you give it a little backspin before you let go? Well, that's a whole different story, as you can see in the latest episode of Veritasium. And let's just say we definitely were not expecting that to happen.

 

But what's going on here? As Derek from Veritasium explains, the ball manages to soar such a huge distance through the air thanks to something called the Magnus effect, which affects all rotating balls or cylinders as they fly through the air.

This phenomenon occurs because the air on the front side of a spinning, falling ball is going in the same direction as the ball's spin, which means it gets dragged along with the ball and deflected back. The air on the other side, however, is moving in an opposite direction to the ball's spin, and so the flow separates instead of getting deflected.

Derek explains this much better in the video above with some cool diagrams, but basically that means that the ball pushes the air one way, so the air applies equal force on the ball the other way, sending it flying. 

The physics alone is awesome, and it's something that's been used by sportspeople for centuries. But what's even cooler is that researchers are actually investigating whether the Magnus effect could be used to more sustainably power transport. In fact, there are already Magnus effect-powered 'sail boats', that have spinning cylinders receiving force from the air, rather than sails.

Engineers even managed to create a plane with spinning cylinders for wings, and found that they actually created more lift than traditional wings. But they also create more drag, which is why the plane only flew once before it crashed.

The experiments haven't stopped, however. Check out the episode of Veritasium above to find out how scientists and engineers are using the Magnus effect to power a whole new generation of sustainable vehicles. Physics is pretty amazing.

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