Anyone who has ever seen The Flintstones is probably aware of the unique braking mechanism on Fred’s stone age car. I always considered the technique of dragging your feet on the ground to bring your vehicle to a stop a matter of artistic license. Until last week, when this video appeared. It provides us with an excellent real-world example where knowing a little physics might have prevented this Michigan driver with failed brakes from attempting a cross-town drive using “The Flintstone Technique”, and possibly putting himself in the running for this year's Darwin Awards.
By Natalie WolchoverPosted 07.22.2011 at 10:17 am 37 Comments
A scientific detective story if there ever was one, Slava Turyshev of JPL and his colleagues have spent years tracking down their villain, the Pioneer Anomaly: an unexplained acceleration in the motion of Pioneer 10 and 11, twin spacecraft that were launched by NASA in the 1970s and radar-tracked for over 30 years. Turyshev and his team have recovered files from NASA dumpsters, converted 1970s punch card data to digital, and spent untold man hours crunching numbers beamed to Earth decades ago from spacecraft billions of miles away.
Finally, the case is solved, and the villain is dead.
Did you feel that? Gravity just got a little weaker. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has just posted the latest internationally recommended adjustments to the values for the fundamental constants of nature. The results: Gravity is a bit weaker, the electromagnetic force a smidgeon stronger, and the whole of physics a little less uncertain.
Today in the Things We Thought We Understood But Really Don’t file, a Northwestern University researcher has upended what was previously thought to be a pretty good understanding of how static electricity works. Static electricity goes beyond the usual theory that it's a simple imbalance of charges caused by the exchange of ions, the researchers’ paper says. Rather, it is the result of an actual transfer of material.
A team of Mexican and Cuban researchers have made a somewhat mind-bending discovery. They’ve shown that objects crashing through a granular medium don’t necessarily lose energy and come to a stop, as you might expect, but can attain a terminal velocity and continue sinking indefinitely into the material. It’s a property that has never been observed or, to the researchers’ knowledge, even predicted before.
Summertime may be the right time for unmasking dark matter. Researchers working on a dark matter experiment buried half a mile underground in a Minnesota mine say they've seen seasonally varying blips in electrical pulses that may be the telltale signs of WIMPs, or weakly interacting massive particles.
Like a long-distance romance, quantum entanglement is a fragile interaction; one moment, two particles can be sharing that special bond in which they are essentially one and the same, even when separated by vast distances. Then, just like that, the link can be broken. So the fact that Chinese researchers have set a new record by entangling eight photons at the same time--and then manipulating and observing them--is nothing short of amazing.
When I talked to Tanner Foust a few days before he attempted to break Johnny Greaves's 2009 four-wheel jump record of 301 feet, there was one question I had to ask: Really? The three-time X Games gold medalist, Hollywood stunt driver (Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, Dukes of Hazzard, Bourne Ultimatum) and host of the History channel's Top Gear USA laughed. "Yeah. Why are we doing this? It looks daunting on paper, but when you break down the science – certain miles per hour over this distance, ramp like this – you just make sure you hit that mark and let physics do its job. For a jump like this, it's all just science."
It's amazing what you can learn with a high-frame-rate X-ray camera, a cup of beef broth, and a Portuguese water dog. For instance, we knew that dogs are obnoxious drinkers, but we didn't realize that rather than scooping liquids into their mouths with the undersides of their tongues, they actually tap a trick of fluid mechanics--just as cats do--to pull columns of water from the water bowl into their mouths.
On the morning of October 25, 1999, captain Michael Kling and his first officer, Stephanie Bellegarrigue, piloted a Learjet Model 35 out of Orlando and set a heading for Dallas, where their passengers—the professional golfer Payne Stewart, Stewart’s agents Robert Fraley and Van Ardan, and golf-course architect Bruce Borland—were planning to build a new course. The Learjet, a plane often used for such trips, was a marvel of engineering: It could climb 4,340 feet in a minute and cruise at up to 530 mph. In 1976 a similar Lear, the Model 36, set a round-the-world speed record.