Oh me-oh, oh my-o, oh Cleveland, Ohio.
November 2, 2014 1:43 AM   Subscribe

A feather and a bowling ball fall from a bar... [SLYT]

Physicist Brian Cox recently visited NASA's Space Power Facility in Ohio to check out the Agency's Space Simulation Chamber. At 30.5 meters across and 37.2 meters tall, the colossal aluminum construction has a volume of 22,653 cubic meters (or about ~800,000 cubic feet), making it the biggest vacuum chamber in the world.
posted by ApathyGirl (26 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
"In't gravity brilliant?"

- The Fast Show, 1997
posted by howfar at 1:06 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

That was great, but it would have been so much better if we could have just watched the objects falling and not kept cutting back to his smegging grin.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:31 AM on November 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

It's amusing that Physicist Brian Cox, along with all those people in the control room who have presumably been working there for various lengths of time, seem so surprised and delighted at learning about the absence of air resistance in the absence of air.
posted by fredludd at 1:41 AM on November 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

There's a difference between knowing something intellectually to be true and seeing it with your own eyes. Seeing them fall at the same rate is cool and I'm glad that even the physicists felt it. Beats being jaded and smug (which plenty of scientists are).

Also, Brian Cox's enthusiasm for science and how the world works is one of his main selling points. You have to expect that going in to any of his programs.
posted by shelleycat at 2:09 AM on November 2, 2014 [12 favorites]

I wonder if he's always like that:

"Brian, either get back in the bath or put some pants on."

– "No, you must see! My body displaces its volume in water, but my duckie only displaces its weight!"
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:09 AM on November 2, 2014 [9 favorites]

I recently listened to the entire back catalogue of The Infinite Monkey Cage and my gut feeling is yes.
posted by shelleycat at 2:31 AM on November 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

That actually put a pretty big grin on my face too. I think it is exactly that, even though you know it, to see it on such a scale is very satisfying.

But apart from that, never mind the bowling ball and the feathers, how cool is that vacuum chamber, and particularly the door? It looks like something out of science fiction. My new goal in life is to have a door like that.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:35 AM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

possibly the best thing about this is that they say the facility was built to test nuclear *propulsion* systems...

I wonder if he's always like that...

"it's not right, it's just exploitation filming him when he's like this..."
posted by ennui.bz at 3:28 AM on November 2, 2014 [9 favorites]

Ok, I know, drama and storytelling, but isn't it a little problematic that they show them falling together in the vacuum slowed down? The whole point is that the results are counterintuitive, and it seems misleading to make it look like they both go slow. I had a preconceived notion of what the results would be based on my knowledge of the science, so I understood what they were saying, but surely there are people, perhaps children, who could be easily misled by this?

It should show the actual results first, and then go back to their happy happy golly gee drama.
posted by bitslayer at 3:31 AM on November 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

(Here's a non-mobile link: "it's not right, it's just exploitation filming him when he's like this...". Thanks ennui.bz)
posted by willF at 3:58 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I find Brian Cox as ridiculously overenthusiastic as the next man, and I also agree that it would have been good to see more footage at normal speed, but I think it's maybe a bit harsh to complain that a 5 minute trailer for a 60 minute programme is potentially misleading, without the context of the other 55 minutes of the show.
posted by howfar at 4:56 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

The experiment is great, but I just kept thinking how expensive it must have been to use that facility. There's a vacuum chamber in Boston's Museum of Science that does the same experiment with a bowling ball and feathers, and it doesn't take 3 hours and many, many peoples' time to do it.

Of course, you'd miss the majesty of the huge building and all, but I also wonder why the scientists are all, "Ooh, look at that!" when that's exactly what that big chamber does.
posted by xingcat at 5:25 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

So, in the absence of air, everything falls really, really slowly. Cool.

"We use the aloominnyum to create an absence of aaaaiaaa..."

I miss Manchester sometimes.
posted by crazylegs at 5:28 AM on November 2, 2014

I had no idea that facility existed. That was so cool.

I, too, was surprised by the staff's reaction to the results of the test. Mostly because, it's hard to believe that they had never done such a test before. I mean...Hey, we have this giant vacuum chamber! And, scientists being scientists and all...
posted by Thorzdad at 6:45 AM on November 2, 2014

I have an interesting experience from the other end of the "air is heavy" spectrum. Some of the weight scales I work on are actually giant tanks for holding oilfield drilling fluids like barite. A typical one might be 40 feet tall and 20 feet in diameter with a nominal holding capacity of half a million pounds. In order to expel material from such a tank to move it to another tank or a transport vehicle, compressed air is used to force the material out. It's a bit unnerving when you're there to look for errors in the weighing to see the scale reading go up by several thousand pounds from the weight of compressed air.
posted by localroger at 6:53 AM on November 2, 2014

And, scientists being scientists and all...

It's not just the three hours, preparing the crane, and so on; pumping that chamber down requires a significant amount of energy and wear on expensive machinery, so it's not done lightly.
posted by localroger at 6:55 AM on November 2, 2014

Toby: What in god's name are you on about?
CJ: He got the question! The majority leader! Last night! Local news, Cleveland, Ohio! Oh me-o, oh my-o, oh Cleveland Ohio! HE GOT THE QUESTION!
Ginger: What's the question?
Toby: What falls faster, a heavier or a lighter object?
Ginger: And what'd he say?
CJ: The reason one falls, were both to fall, that is, that both fall is that the objects that are falling are not falling, but in a manner of speaking, they are both standing still, in that they are falling, or we are falling towards them. By which I am making a reference to the frame of reference, relatively, which is relative.
CJ: ...
CJ: Chk-chk BOOM!

I think that's how the episode went, anyway.
posted by aureliobuendia at 7:30 AM on November 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

I, too, was surprised by the staff's reaction to the results of the test.

I could totally imagine expecting that the feathers are going to fall a weensy little bit slower than the metal ball, at least enough to be visible over such a long fall, and that they'll have to explain this to the audience... but nope.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:39 AM on November 2, 2014

Thanks for giving the reference for those of us with substandard West Wing recall.

And you said it perfectly, bitslayer. I so wanted to see the actual fall, and then they did the slo-mo crap. People have enough problems confusing reality with the more dramatic stories that keep them excited and tuned to the same channel. I want more people, like scientists, to say "this is how the world actually works".
posted by benito.strauss at 7:43 AM on November 2, 2014

I toured this facility and saw the chamber as a schoolchild. It turns out they don't do this demonstration for every grade-school field trip. Which is understandable but also sort of a pity, because who better to wow with that?

They also have a 2.2 second drop tower which is spectacular to watch in action. Which is also not fired up for the kiddies. I'm perplexed that I can't find any good video of that right now.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:32 AM on November 2, 2014

The same experiment ON THE FUCKING MOON!

(No slo-mo)
posted by dirigibleman at 8:36 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ok, I know, drama and storytelling, but isn't it a little problematic that they show them falling together in the vacuum slowed down?

I felt the same way -- it sorta suggests that rather than speeding up the feathers, the absence of air slows down the bowling ball. I know that's not correct and you know that's not correct, but it sure is what the video implied.

They could easily have shown the drop happen in real time and only then showed bits of it in slow motion to show off the feathers not moving, etc. That would have let them show off the same cool shit without the bad science.

Still, it was neat to see.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:10 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

That was cool as hell. The three things that really stood out for me were:
1. A facility for studying nuclear propulsion (!!!!!!)
2. Very standard (like that you can buy at Home Depot) valves on heavily painted pipes shaking as they pumped out the air.
3. The tiny motion of the feather visible at the start of the ball drop.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:00 PM on November 2, 2014

I found that thrilling.

But from a theoretical point of view, the only reason they fell at exactly the same speed moment by moment was because they were dropped at exactly the same time.

If you dropped them in separate experiments and were able to measure the speeds and times with unlimited precision, the more massive bowling ball would be found to have fallen faster, for the very simple reason that its greater mass would have pulled the Earth toward it more as it fell than the less massive feathers would have.

And not only would the bowling ball hit the 'ground' sooner, it would be found to have attained a greater speed at every corresponding moment of its fall, because the Earth's gravitational field is not uniform, and as the bowling ball pulled the Earth closer, it would be in a region with greater field strength than the feathers would at the corresponding moment of the feathers' fall.

I wouldn't bring up such a fiddly issue, except that, at the end there, Cox invoked Einstein's Principle of Equivalence, which asserts that motion from a gravitational field is equivalent in principle to motion unmoored objects would display in a uniformly accelerating spaceship, yet it takes some tricky extra steps in the argument to arrange masses outside of an enclosed spaceship in such a way as to reproduce effects identical to those of uniform acceleration.
posted by jamjam at 1:15 PM on November 2, 2014

I agree it would be nice if they'd showing it in a single, unbroken, cut at normal speed. The slow motion stuff was cool, but a full speed single cut scene would have been nice.

@From Bklyn, I noticed that motion on the feather too. Shockwave from being released maybe?
posted by sotonohito at 7:43 PM on November 2, 2014

For Red Nose Day I want to see Brian Cox and Nigella Lawson trade jobs, and she can gush in languid, breathy syllables about science and he can do the same about chocolate.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:15 AM on November 3, 2014

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