Week in Geek: Bowling ball vs. feather, falling

Have you ever wondered about all those famous thought experiments famous scientists come up with? Galileo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Einstein and his trains, Schrodinger and his cats. While we can’t yet reenact what Einstein and Schrodinger had in mind, we can test Galileo’s idea.

Galileo theorized that objects fall at the same rate (regardless of their mass, size, shape) when they are subject to the same gravitational acceleration (on the Earth, Moon, etc.) and air resistance is negligible (i.e., in a vacuum). Essentially, this means that in these conditions, any two objects will fall at the same velocity and land at the same time. Building an experiment to drop pairs of objects is no big deal, but building one to drop them in a vacuum is.

Vacuum chambers weren’t really commonplace until the advent of flight, when aeronautical engineers built them to simulate high‐altitude conditions for engine tests. Once the space race began, vacuum chambers were in great demand. The world’s largest vacuum chamber is located at the Space Power Facility (SPF) at NASA Glenn Research Center’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio. Operating since 1969, the SPF chamber is 122 feet tall and 100 feet in diameter.

Recently, physicist Brian Cox visited SPF to film a segment for his BBC series “Human Universe.” Watch as he recreates Galileo’s famous experiment.


Some of you may recall another recreation that took place long ago (as in 1971) and far away (as in the Moon). Commander Dave Scott on Apollo 15, famously dropped a feather and a hammer on the surface of the Moon with the same amazing result.


It’s pretty incredible to see physics in action like this, isn’t it?

Here’s some more geek from the week to inspire some thought experiments:

Keep on geeking! @Summer_Ash


Rachel Maddow Show Geek

Week in Geek: Bowling ball vs. feather, falling