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"Gravity pretty much is irrelevant"
May 1, 2008 6:57 PM   Subscribe

Does a boomerang thrown in space return to its pitcher? It does indeed. [Via]
posted by homunculus (62 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was so gonna post this.
posted by parmanparman at 7:01 PM on May 1, 2008


I'll bet Hula Hoops are even easier
posted by longsleeves at 7:01 PM on May 1, 2008


Does a boomerang thrown in space inside the International Space Station return to its pitcher?

Fixed that for you...
posted by wfrgms at 7:04 PM on May 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


Fine, but what if it's thrown from a plane that is trying to take off from a conveyor belt?
posted by brain_drain at 7:06 PM on May 1, 2008 [13 favorites]


It's the air© that makes it work.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:08 PM on May 1, 2008


Thirding wfrgms and jimmythefish. The title is mildly misleading, it should "in (near) zero gravity" instead of "in space".
posted by aheckler at 7:10 PM on May 1, 2008


It's pretty basic physics. This warranted an article in New Scientist?
posted by backseatpilot at 7:16 PM on May 1, 2008


My son goes to a NASA Explorer school, and we just went to a teleconference with a NASA guy who showed us videos of boomerangs and the ol' cup-and-ball game on the ISS. NASA couldn't get the boomerang to work, but apparantly JAXA nailed it. Maybe there's just more room in Kibo.
posted by rikschell at 7:20 PM on May 1, 2008


I don't understand; why would we think the presence or absence of 1g of gravity would affect a boomerang?
posted by Justinian at 7:23 PM on May 1, 2008


Thirding wfrgms and jimmythefish. The title is mildly misleading, it should "in (near) zero gravity" instead of "in space".

Absolutely. My first thought was "How could this work without the friction of air?"
posted by Miko at 7:28 PM on May 1, 2008


I'm as confused as the above commenters. The title is misleading (a boomerang wouldn't work in the near-vacuum of space), and the idea that gravity would be important to a boomerang never crossed my mind. Pretty weak.
posted by knave at 7:29 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


A three pronged flying thing isn't a boomerang. Wusses.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:32 PM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


Why do journalists have so much problem with this concept? They're in orbit, they're "weightless." It's not "micro-gravity," it's not "zero gravity." It isn't like these guys are at the edge of the solar system.
posted by sdodd at 7:36 PM on May 1, 2008


Bah! My boomerang returns when I throw it into the sun!

Well, in sunlight. Close enough for a headline, no?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:39 PM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


if it stopped time, it would be more interesting
posted by bhnyc at 7:39 PM on May 1, 2008


Hi, I'm on MetaFilter and I could crush a can of beans with my rectum.
posted by homunculus at 8:02 PM on May 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


Imagine a paper airplane... then what? Sure, it flies, but so does an m&m. I guess that's why the nerds were so confused.
posted by tomplus2 at 8:08 PM on May 1, 2008


Heh, I think a real airplane in a large weightless but air-filled volume would be interesting. You'd have lift, but no gravity countering it, and I imagine you could pull off some sweet moves.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:17 PM on May 1, 2008


Ok fine, but a boomerang in a spacestation is still fucking awesome and no amount of nerd pedantery is going to change that. We can watch a dude do something cool while he's in space... come on motherfuckers.

I totally came into the thread prepared to point out that it was not space but microgravity and a fairly decent replica of human breathable atmosphere.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:19 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


1. A three-pronged paper thing is not a boomerang.
2. I'd bet a real return-boomerang would behave quite differently in space.

That being said, it probably would be possible to have it return if it were thrown in a way which compensated for the lack of gravity.
posted by ...possums at 8:27 PM on May 1, 2008


Surprised no one has pointed out that the air inside the space station is not the friendly 14.7 psi it is at Earth sea level. It's something like 5 psi. That would have an affect on the boomerang...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:32 PM on May 1, 2008


Wow, air in the ISS is very different from earth air if it has and affect on the boomerang! Earth air parts when the boomerang flies through it because of simple physics, but air in the IIS parts because it feels DEEP REPULSION towards boomerangs. Or maybe the air in the IIS did not want to hurt the astronaut's feelings? Ohh, wait, you mean effect, nevermind.
posted by Dr. Curare at 8:45 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fine, but what if it's thrown from a plane that is trying to take off from a conveyor belt? . . . with a record player turntable underneath spinning exactly opposite, and watched by 99 blue-eyed islanders, each of whom must leave the island immediately upon discovering the answer to the question?

Now we're getting down the really important issues here . . .
posted by flug at 8:54 PM on May 1, 2008


>has and affect

Yeah, that's told him.
posted by pompomtom at 9:07 PM on May 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


Every piece of snark has already been used. I feel cheated.
posted by sfts2 at 9:15 PM on May 1, 2008


Yeah, so what? I want to know if orgasms while in LEO are better than at 1g at STP.
posted by porpoise at 9:24 PM on May 1, 2008


porpoise: use a tissue! floaters are dangerous.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:35 PM on May 1, 2008


I had one of these when I was a little kid and couldn't make it work. Curved, yes, but that thing didn't come back.

Fuck you, Aerobie. Fuck you and what you did to my childhood.

Their frisbee is pretty awesome, though.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:54 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


See? Robots in space would never do that!
posted by Artw at 9:56 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


knave writes "the idea that gravity would be important to a boomerang never crossed my mind"

It's one of the ways science progresses though, people observing unexpected results when doing anything they can think of. IE: the cliche that the most exciting phrase in science isn't "Eureka!" but rather "Hmm, that's funny".
posted by Mitheral at 10:06 PM on May 1, 2008


"See? Robots in space would never do that!"

Please go stand by the stairs.
So that the pusher robot can protect you
from the terrible secret of space.

No wait. This is microgravity.
Damn. Foiled again.

Here. Hold this boomerang shaped balloon filled with hydrogen.
Stand very still. So that the shover robot can protect you.
from the terrible snarkiness of this thread.

Boom.

There. Much better.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:10 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


the most exciting phrase in science isn't "Eureka!" but rather "Hmm, that's funny".

And don't forget the importance of "Well, no duh."
posted by homunculus at 10:25 PM on May 1, 2008


Yeah, so what? I want to know if orgasms while in LEO are better than at 1g at STP.

Sorry porpoise, AIUI they'd be worse. The blood will go to your belly instead of the useful places.
posted by atbash at 11:00 PM on May 1, 2008


The New Scientist published a banal article with a misleading headline?! I would be shocked, except for the fact that, you know, the New Scientist sucks warm sick through a short straw.
posted by kyrademon at 11:14 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


The phrase you're looking for is "in free fall". They're not in a 'microgravity' environment; they're in very close to 1g of gravity. They don't feel it, however, because they're plunging toward the Earth like any other falling body would. They're moving sideways exactly fast enough that the Earth moves out of the way before they get there, but they're still constantly falling. (people who get spacesick from the feeling of falling probably aren't helped much by knowing that they ARE, in fact, falling.)

In the Hitchhiker's Guide, Douglas Adams joked that flying is the art of throwing oneself headlong at the ground, and missing. This is actually a pretty good description of an orbit. :)

The headline is terrible. "In space" has a very specific meaning.... being in vacuum. The difference between being in space and not in space is whether or not you're in atmosphere. The ISS is in space; the boomerang within is not. I imagine the headline was grafted on after the fact, as the article itself is quite clear about what's happening: free fall doesn't affect a boomerang.

It makes me wonder how many people are going to think, now, that boomerangs work in a vacuum, which they most certainly don't. Poor form, Mr. Editor/Headliner. You blew it.
posted by Malor at 11:22 PM on May 1, 2008


the most exciting phrase in science isn't "Eureka!" but rather "Hmm, that's funny".

Or, if you're me, "Aw, Goddammit! Again?!"

Unfortunately, I have been right to say that, every time.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:32 PM on May 1, 2008


The boomerang actually contained a pedant magnet.
posted by Artw at 11:38 PM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


Surprised no one has pointed out that the air inside the space station is not the friendly 14.7 psi it is at Earth sea level. It's something like 5 psi. That would have an affect on the boomerang...

Is it really? I don't think so. 5 psi is closer to the lowest temperatures we get on earth, so it would be too hard for the astronauts to cope with every day. Also, the boomerang effect would still be pressent with lower air pressure, maybe just to a different degree. I hope the boomerangs aren't offended by all this scandalous bad science.


Fuck you, Aerobie. Fuck you and what you did to my childhood.
Oh yeah, I can't even put a number on the amount of time my friends and I lost when we hurtled one of those SuperDisc things so friggn' far it ended up in the sea/over a cliff/just-too-far-that-we-couldnt-be-arsed-chasing-it. Happy days.
posted by theyexpectresults at 11:59 PM on May 1, 2008


> Hi, I'm on MetaFilter and I could crush a can of beans with my rectum.

rule 34 alert
posted by joeblough at 12:08 AM on May 2, 2008


theyexpectresults: "5 psi is closer to the lowest temperatures we get on earth, so it would be too hard for the astronauts to cope with every day."

Look, I know you Americans like your crazy imperial system of measurements, but there's no reason to step the confuse-the-Europeans-level up to such proportions!
posted by PontifexPrimus at 12:22 AM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


We can watch a dude do something cool while he's in space

This is what irks me. These lucky few that get to go into orbit, that should be prize enough, that should be more than sufficient fun and thrill. But noooo, then they get to play with boomerangs as well. Smug bastards.

Frankly they should send them up there and then make them do accounting or something. That would even it out.
posted by chrismear at 12:27 AM on May 2, 2008


See, I told you that you couldn't trust Shover. Do they ever listen?

Seriously, forget this. You guys can protect your damn selves from the terrible secret of space.
posted by The Pusher Robot at 12:33 AM on May 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


"daddy, I want an oompa-loompa and i want one NOW."
posted by CitizenD at 12:59 AM on May 2, 2008


I don't trust any of this until a Australasian does it.
posted by LostZombies at 1:04 AM on May 2, 2008


"Look, I know you Americans like your crazy imperial system of measurements, but there's no reason to step the confuse-the-Europeans-level up to such proportions!"

To be honest, I have to convert everything to Pascals or similiar before I can make sense of it. I'm European too, and so I have a similar sense of wtf every time something is described in psi, foot-pounds, barleycorn etc.
posted by theyexpectresults at 2:43 AM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I didn't think the boomerang had enough lift to get off the moving conveyer belt.
posted by clearly at 3:58 AM on May 2, 2008


I didn't think the boomerang had enough lift to get off the moving conveyer belt.

touche, brain_drain

You win this round my friend.
posted by clearly at 3:59 AM on May 2, 2008


So let me get this straight. They did an experiment to confirm something no one doubted but could look pretty cool and make a good fluffy news story....but didn't take any video?
posted by DU at 4:23 AM on May 2, 2008


After we finish with frisbee, let's play three dimensional billiards!
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:12 AM on May 2, 2008


If you threw a boomerang sufficiently hard enough in space that it got caught in Earth gravitation but managed to stay on an even trajectory, it could return to the thrower after it orbited.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:14 AM on May 2, 2008


Metafilter: could crush a can of beans with its rectum
posted by toastchee at 7:09 AM on May 2, 2008


Metafilter: could crush a can of beans with its rectum if only it had just one
posted by tommasz at 8:26 AM on May 2, 2008


EVA 1: Ok, we've spent millions of dollars setting up this experiment, it's taken us months to get here, but we are finally in space with a boomerang. Let's see what happens.

EVA 2: Throwing now...

*boomerang flies in a fast straight line away from them*

EVA 1: Huh. Well, I guess that answers that.

EVA 2: Yep.

::Three billion years later::

Alien X: So I see you've upgraded the saucer. Niiice.

Alien Y: Yeah, these new gravic-lifts should... Oww, mother-fucker!

Alien X: What the hell was that? That bent thing just came out of nowhere!

Alien Y: It hit me right in the head! Who would do something like that?

Alien X: Tell you what, let's plug it into the computer, figure out where it came from, and go do some serious probing and mutilating. I've been itching to use the new time-machine software I installed.

Alien Y: Fuck yeah!
posted by quin at 8:29 AM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


bah. The metric system is for people who are scared to divide by 12. (or 16. or 36. or bushels by pecks)
posted by device55 at 8:59 AM on May 2, 2008


crazy man.
posted by Flex1970 at 9:34 AM on May 2, 2008


Boomerang Story.

It was Christmas 1969. We were just preparing to go overseas and were spending our last Christmas stateside at my Grandmas in Idaho before my dad got his new orders.

It was a bumper crop in presents. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Spy Kit was particularly awesome. And in our stockings was a curious V-shaped piece of wood. One for my brother and one for me.

"What's this?" I asked.

"A boomerang, stupid." Said my brother.

"What's a boom-ber-rang?"

"You throw them and they come back to you..." he said.

My reaction was immediate. I just threw it. In my Grandmas living room. It rocketed between her couch and Christmas Tree.

All the adults, sleepily sipping their coffee or picking up wrapping paper or trying to relax from the Christmas present orgy all hit the dirt as the boomerang bounced off the far wall.

"NOT IN THE HOUSE!
JESUS H. CHRIST!
JUDAS PRIEST!
GODDAMNIT!" They yelled.

My comes over with the boomerang. "Let's take it outside."

This was an ordeal gearing up for the Idaho winter. But they let me keep my rob and PJ's on but I put on mittens and snow boots. My grandpa joined us so he could smoke his pipe. We crunched through the snow of the back yard and my dad explained the principle of why the boomerrang comes back and what it was for.

"The Aborigines in Australia use these to hunt Kangaroo's" he concluded.

"COOL" I said. But my next few attempts at throwing it just saw it plop into the garden fifteen feet away.

"Aim higher." My dad said.

So my brother and I threw the disagreeable piece of wood up higher. This just left us climbing over my grandpa's fence into our nieghbors yard. So we went into the front yard, which was bigger. Crunch crunch crunch through the snow.

"You people don't know what the hell you're doing." said my grandpa. He often referred to us as "You people" like he never felt we were related. He walks over to my brother and holds out his hand and my brother reluctantly gives him the boomerang.

"Pop. Give 'em a chance." said my dad.

"I'll show you people how this is done.." And he whips that frigg'n thing out and over us. His glasses nearly flip off his face as he gets his whole body into it. It was amazing. It spun and soared over our heads a good 200 feet. It started to arc like maybe it was gonna turn. But the arc was like a lazy cursive "L" and the thing just kept going. Up and over a distant snow colored hill and then it disappeared behind it.

We all just stood there a few minutes. My teeth we chattering. I remember my Grandpa, seeing the icy fog of his breath, squinting up at the hill like he was expecting it to come back. And then just saying "Well... good god damn. She's a gonner." The he smiled, pleased with himself, and looked over at my dad and winked. "700 yards. Easy."

My brother starts crying. As usual we ignored him.

I still had my boomerang. I started to quietly tuck it into my robe. Because I knew what was next. A competition had just silently sprung between my dad and his dad.

My dad looks over at me and says "Hey. Todd let me have a try at yours."

"No."

"C'mon. Let me try." He walked over to me. I started running around like a crazy person trying to dodge him.

"No. Noooooooooo. Noooooooooooo."

"We'll buy you both new ones. C'mon."

Me. Still running around. "No. No. Noooooooooo. Noooooooooooo."

"You can pick it out. You can have two. C'mon, hand it over, honey."

"Two? oh.. ...ok" I give him my boomerang.

He removes his glasses and hand them to my Grandpa. He gently moves my sobbing brother out of the line of fire and he takes a couple of big exaggerated steps back then BOOM, let's fly.

The boomerang goes low and flat. And smashes the drivers side side mirror of our car.
posted by tkchrist at 10:42 AM on May 2, 2008 [10 favorites]


tk--that was phenomenal.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 10:54 AM on May 2, 2008


DU: the second link is the video.
posted by homunculus at 11:31 AM on May 2, 2008


Metafilter: Every piece of snark has already been used.
posted by pompomtom at 7:33 PM on May 2, 2008


What's so special about boomerangs? Pretty much anything you can throw returns to its pitcher if you throw it hard enough at a vindictive person.
posted by JeNeSaisQuoi at 5:23 AM on May 3, 2008


I think this is nifty.

But also: You could throw a paper airplane around the world.

That would probably not be the oddest thing they've woken up to find hovering outside their window. I'm sure brilliant minds have worked on positioning a flying saucer toy just right.
posted by Pronoiac at 5:59 PM on May 3, 2008


Everyone who said, duh, please describe what happens to a candle when you light it in zero-G.

Not everything behaves in an obvious manner.
posted by effugas at 9:45 PM on May 4, 2008


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