February 23, 2003

MAYBE THE ASTROS CAN MOVE THERE?

On Mars, Curveballs become Screwballs (Robert Roy Britt, 21 February 2003, Space.com)
If a baseball team traveled to Mars for an interplanetary away game, shortstops and second basemen would become instant sluggers, benefiting from the reduced gravity and thinner air.

And according to a new study, pitchers might find their curveballs behaving like screwballs. The reverse behavior would owe to Mars' practically nonexistent atmosphere and the complex "fluid dynamics" that make a spinning ball curve. [...]

Here's how a curveball works, again looking at it all from above:

A spinning object creates a whirlpool of air around it. On the left side of a curveball, this whirlpool is moving in the same direction as wind that's zipping past the ball, generating increased air speed. On the right side, the whirlpool opposes the oncoming wind, slowing it down.

As any airplane wing designer knows, faster-moving air means less pressure (wings are designed to make air move more quickly over the top, thus providing lift). With our curveball, the left side experiences less pressure than the right side, pulling the pitch to the left.

The phenomenon is called Magnus force.

In thin air, however, the whole whirlpool process breaks down if the distance a molecule must travel to hit another molecule is greater than the diameter of the spinning object. In this case, another process governs the ball's movement.

Now, sans a whirlpool, our intended curve ball interacts directly with incoming air.

"The side of the ball facing the incoming gas molecules will deflect these in the direction given by the rotation," researcher Hanno Essen, of Stockholm University, explained in an e-mail interview. "The ball will therefore (according to the law of action and reaction) tend in the opposite direction." Meaning the molecules go left, the ball goes right.


Those of us of a certain age can still recall teachers telling us that the break of a baseball was nothing more than an optical illusion, that it was physically impossible for it to actually curve in flight. So, when he was, all too briefly, Commissioner of Baseball, Bart Giammatti got a fellow Yale Professor, Robert Kemp Adair, to write a terrific little book about the The Physics of Baseball. It created kind of a cottage industry among physicists/baseball fans and made more than one of us want to hunt down an old teacher and say: Told you so!

MORE:
-The Crack-of-the-Bat: The Acoustics of the Bat Hitting the Ball (Robert Kemp Adair, Yale University, Presented Friday afternoon, June 8, 2001, 141st ASA Meeting, Chicago, IL)
-AUDIO: Bats, Balls and the Wind (The Weather Notebook)
-Fastball Feats: The Split-Second Act of Putting Bat on Ball (Paul Recer, The Associated Press)
-The Physics of Baseball (Alan Nathan)
-Baseball HR Simulator
-The Physics of Ball on Bat (Ned Rozell, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks)
-The Physics of Baseballs: Foul Ball?: Unraveling the mystery of why it's so easy to hit a home run (Curtis Rist, May 2001, Discover)
-Science of Baseball (Exploratorium)
-Physicist Maps Bat's Sweet Spot (Kenneth Chang, 9/08/98, ABCNEWS.com)
-Playball (Beyond 2000)
-SCIENCE HAS A SWEET SPOT FOR BASEBALL: BASEBALL A PHYSICS PASTIME: SCIENTISTS DON'T CARE IF THEY EVER GET BACK. (Jeremy Manier, April 3, 2000, Chicago Tribune)
-Batspeed.com: offers over 50 detailed pages covering the latest research in baseball and softball hitting mechanics
-Beyond the Physics of Baseball (Don Malcolm, Baseball Primer)
-How To Neuter Coors: Taking the pop out of baseball's highest-scoring park. (John Pastier, July 5, 2002, Slate)
-REVIEW: of The Physics of Baseball (Michael J. Mehl)

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 23, 2003 9:22 AM
Comments

Why move to Mars? Denver's closer and they already have a stadium....

Posted by: Barry Meislinb at February 23, 2003 4:01 PM

Yes, lets keep the baseball players and send the George Clooneys, Susan Sarandons, Sheryl Crows, Sean Penns, Alec Baldwins, Dave Matthews, Steve Earles, Jessica Langes, etc. instead. Anyone notice that stupid anti-war comments aren't coming from our athletes but from the actors and muscians? And some athletes are busy becoming part of our armed forces, too.

Posted by: Buttercup at February 23, 2003 8:28 PM

Hey, maybe taking some of the stress of gravity off their brains will free up the works and they'll actually start to think!!

Posted by: Buttercup at February 23, 2003 8:30 PM

Our third grade reader had a section on baseball which said that curve balls didn't really curve. When I protested, Miss Shields made me sit in the corner for the rest of the afternoon.

Posted by: Foos at February 24, 2003 10:21 AM
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