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Flying circus of physics

Updates on video links for archived and book stories

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

New videos for archived stories or stories in the book.

2 May 2012
A snake's nervous system can still work up to 30 minutes after the snake has been killed. For rattlesnakes and copperheads, that nervous system is triggered by infrared detectors on both sides of the snake's face. If you reach for the dead snake, the IR can cause it to bite your hand.

9 January 2012
A bungee-cord jump that goes very bad.
A lot of the energy went into the stretching and then snapping of the cord, which happened when the cord was being stretched and thus under tension. So, she hit the water with less speed than if she had freely fallen the entire height (which would have been fatal).

19 August 2011
The smoke emission by Mount Etna develops into a beautiful ring vortex.
For my earlier discussion on ring vortexes, go to
and scroll down to item 2.40.

1 August 2011
Ok, there are probably way too many domino-effect videos on the web, with most being about the same. But here is a video about the domino effect that made me laugh. It uskes shot glasses of sake, making "sake bombs."

23 July 2011
Previously I explained the geysers that can explode from the manholes over certain water drainage systems. Here is another dramatic example: the rear end of a car is shot upward by a geyser shooting from a manhole. 
If you want to see the explanation and the other video examples, go to 

and scroll down to item 2.163

7 June 2011
The ash spewed out by this volcano becomes highly charged, and every now and then electrons from a pocket of negative charge will jump over to a pocket of postive charge. 
To see more about volcano discharges, go to and scroll down to this item:
5.30 Lightning and Iceland volcano

Surveillance camera shows cars in a parking lot as a tornado hits the lot.
31 March 2011
A whole bunch of amazing basketball shots. Sure, it is only the usual projectile motion, but controlling the path this much is just amazing.

12 February 2011
Trick shots with a football by Johny McEntee news video same news video
27 January 2011
A trebuchet was used to hurl marijuna across the Mexico-Arizona border, until border agents from both sides seized it. (Physics is everywhere, even in drug smuggling.) Here is a video.

24 December 2010
In a basketball game, Idaho State's Kamil Gawrzydek makes a free throw at the basket that become momentarily balanced on the front rim of the basket, with the center of the ball directly above the center of the metal rim. 

21 December 2010
Can you fly through the air with pressurized water jets strapped to your back? Well, yes, but not very far.

25 October 2010
Video inside what appears to be a tornado.

30 August 2010

A vortex of several meters height develops in a Brazilian brush fire:
I expect turbulence, but every now and then that random motion develops into an organized vortex flow, as hot gases swirl upward.

20 August 2010
Basketball shot made from an amusement park ride. Not only is this difficult owing to the distance, but the initial speed must be figured into the flight also.

2 June 2010
Close-up video of tornado

28 May 2010
Jonathan Trappe crosses the English Channel by floating beneath a cluster of 55 helium-filled balloons that is tied to the wicker chair on which he is strapped. 
Here is the news item

Previous balloon flights in lawn chairs are describe here 
and in The Flying Circus of Physics book in item 2.56.

27 April 2010
Amazing, absolutely amazing basketball shots by someone who beat Lebron James (the famous basketball player here in Cleveland) at "horse":
If you want to see more amazing shots and the underlying physics, go to
and scroll down to item 1.228 Lucky Shots.


27 April 2010
Here is a video shot by tornado chasers as a tornado passes over them. Obviously they were in serious danger of being killed, so forgive them for the cursing toward the end. Note how they exclain about their ears "popping" because of the sudden decrease in air pressure within the tornado. Such low pressure is characteristic of vortex flows.
If you want more links to tornado videos or a list of scientific papers about tornadoes, go to this pdf file
and scroll down to or search for items "2.36" and "2.37". In the Flying Circus of Physics book, item 2.37 relates how a man found himself looking directly up in a tornado that had removed the roof of his house.

27 April 2010
A meteor lights up the sky:
There are more meteor video links down below here, for Jan and Feb 2009.

27 April 2010
Pedestrian throw is the technical term for the flight of a pedestrian hit by a moving vehicle. Here is the latest video (but don't worry, the man is not hurt).
If you want to see the physics behind the various ways a person can be thrown into the air, come to this story in the FCP archives:

31 March 2010
The assembly of students intended to cheer wildly as the blindfolded teacher threw the basketball at the basket, to give him the false conclusion that he had made the basket. But, in fact, he does make the basket. Never mind the equations for projectile motion that I teach; never mind the hours and years of practice in front of a hoop. Just strap on a blindfold and throw the ball! 

11 March 2010
This the most amazing Rube Goldberg machine that I have ever seen, and the video is apparently real:

9 March 2010
Here is video of a tornado ripping through houses and power lines, shot from a distance of about 80 meters: 
21 Feb 2010
You may be watching some of the curling competitions in the Olympics. Here is an audio clip about curling, taken from an old episode of "Quirks and Quarks" on CBC radio (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). I used to be on the show almost every week, for about 5 minutes. The host (Jay Ingram) and I would do a bit of physics with humor each time.


2 Feb 2010
Here is the only photo I've ever seen of a lunar fogbow. It is like the common rainbow except that it is formed by light from the Moon rather than directly from the Sun and by small fog drops instead raindrops. You can even see the colors. Normal fogbows in direct sunlight are always white because the smallness of the drops causes the colors to overlap instead of being visibly spreadout as in a common rainbow.
Elsewhere here I discuss lunar rainbows (called moonbows):

4 Jan 2010
World record jump in a car, an astounding example of projectile motion:

The speed record for a steam car is broken: 

19 Nov 2009
I have previously talked about the stability of long cranes that attempt to pick up a heavy load. Usually the crane truck has outriggers, "feet" that extend outward so that the support area (or footprint) is wider. That way, the torque due to the gravitational force on the truck's center of mass can counter the torque due to the load that is picked up. Here is an example where the load won the contest. Notice that the truck was rotated around its rear and thus the outriggers, which are along the sides of the truck, did not help. 
For my previous story and lots of links, click here.

19 Nov 2009
Here are more videos (from security cameras) that show how a meteor can light up a night sky.
The light is produced by the intense heating of the object as it forces its way through the atmosphere. Most fast objects undergo such heating. For example, when the supersonic Concorde airplanes were flying, the cabin windows were noticeably warm to the touch.

11 Nov 2009
As we've seen in many stories here at the FCP site and in the FCP book, you are stable only if you keep your center of mass over your support area. If someone "sweeps out", say, your right foot in a judo foot sweep, your center of mass is then no longer over your support area (then only your left foot) and the gravitational force creates a torque that rotates you around your left foot and onto the floor. Well, here is something similar but with thousands of dollars of beer hitting the floor.\2009\11\03

1 Nov 2009
Here is a link to the video of my student taking his final exam in the Flying Circus of Physics course. Oh, it does not involve pen, paper, and calculator. It involves very sharp nails and a lot of pain. If you click on the HD button, you can see the indentations that the nails make in his body.

6 Oct 2009
Thomas Ritsert sent me this link
that shows an amazing ability to balance stones, one above another. If you would like to read my early story about such balancing acts, which seems to have become very popular, use this link:
Basically, the trick is to get the center of mass of the higher stone located above the triangle formed by three contact points between the stones. If the center of mass is offset from that support area, the top stone rotates around the contacts and falls. Obviously getting every thing just right takes time, but smoothing off some of the roundness of the stones can help.

28 Sep 2009
This has got to be the best basketball shot ever made, and I think the video is real.
Obviously, controlling the launch of such projectile motion to hit such a small target is very tricky and very chancy. I can only guess that many attempts were made. However, other videos show other remarkable shots, so such shots are actually possible. If you want links to the other videos, go
and then scroll down to item 1.33 Basketball shots.

28 Sep 2009
Here is a link to the new record for motorcycle jumping, ramp to ramp, 87.7 m (286 feet), set by Ryan Capes.
This, too, is an example of projectile motion but far more dangerous. It also involves the angular momentum of the wheels and the motorcycle itself. If you want to read and see more about the physics of such jumps, go here and scroll down to item 1.81 Motorcycle Long Jumps.
For a story and links to the highest motorcycle jump, go to and scroll down to story 1.81 Robbie Maddison's motorcycle jump.

22 Sep 2009
Here is another example how dangerous a human projectile is. A circus act in which a man is shot from a cannon to land in a distant net is discussed in The Flying Circus of Physics and also in the recent story I wrote about the fake video in which a man slides off a wet ramp to land in a tub of water. Here is a real video in which the human cannonball misses the net. The performer lived through the landing but had several broken bones. 

1 Sep 2009
In the archives I have a story about how starlings can fly in flocks of many tens of thousands without having a single mid-air collision. Well, here is a news video that describes how several million bats (yes, millions) fly into and out of a Texas cave every day without having a single collision. Of course, they have an advantage over the birds because they use echolocation.

In The Flying Circus of Physics book, I describe how a tightrope walker maintains balance by using arms or a long pole to keep the center of mass more or less above the wire. Well, here is an example that is just nightmarish to me: Freddy Nock of Switzerland sets a new record for tightrope walking: up a cable car wire, through 995 meters, to the top of Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany.

14 July 2009
Ever since the James Bond book and movie Goldfinger, people have worried about whether they would be sucked out of an airplane if a hole developed in a window. Well, here is a news item about a foot-wide hole that suddenly appeared in the cabin ceiling of a Southwest Airline airplane in flight. The cabin pressure dropped, but no one was pulled out of the airplane. 
Here is the archived story about Goldfinger and the threat of being sucked out of an airplane.

13 July 2009
Robbie Maddison makes a motorcycle jump over the Thames River, from one side of the open Tower Bridge to the other.

6 July 2009
Record setting tightrope walking (item 1.91 in The Flying Circus of Physics book):

5 June 2009
The description here is that the lightning hit a teenager in the head, went through his body, and then exited at an ankle. However, had that happened, he would have had extensive internal burns and would not have survived. I think a better explanation is that the current was not the main strike but a side flash from a nearby tall object, perhaps the baseball stand or backfence that we see in the video. And the current went down the side of his body, causing the chest burns that the doctor describes. Still, it was a very close call.
This physics is discussed in item 5.2 in The Flying Circus of Physics book and more video links can be found in the pdf file for Chapter 5.

21 May 2009
Here is a video showing mutlitple lightning strikes to the tall structure known as Space Needle in Seattle, Washington. However, the video is looped --- that is, you see a number of strikes several times during the video's run. Lightning often strikes tall structures without any affects to the occupants. This physics is discussed in item 5.4 in The Flying Circus of Physics book and more video links can be found in the pdf file for Chapter 5.

19 May 2009
Video of a huge Louisiana waterspout (you have to wait through the advertisement):
More waterspout videos are in the pdf file for Chapter 2 and the physics of waterspouts is discussed in item 2.38 in The Flying Circus of Physics book.

18 May 2009
Video of skydiver who survives a fall from 6000 feet in spite of opening his parachute too late.
He survives for three physics reasons: (1) the parachutist slows his descent somewhat, (2) he lands in snow (notice the impact crater), (3) he lands on a slope instead of a horizontal surface. Such survival after a long fall is discussed in The Flying Circus of Physics book and I'll develop the material further in a story here soon.

8 May 2009
Surfer in monster barrel roll, shot in super slow motion
For more links to surfing, click here and scroll down to the item 2.69 about surfing.

24 April 2009
Lightning strikes the Sears Tower in Chicago. Note that the electricity supply to the building is uninterrupted? The lightning current must have been channeled down a lightning rod and then through the conducting intrastructure of the building.  
To see other links about lightning, click here and scroll down through the several items about lightning.

13 March 2009
Ok, what is more frightening than the high acceleration in the plunge on the first hill of a roller coaster? Well, uh, how about plunging while inverted by coming down a track at an angle of 100 degrees at an acceleration of 4.7 gs?
To see other links about roller coasters, click here and scroll down to item 1.19.

28 Feb 2009  Manitoba video  House ripped apart by tornado
To see other links, click here and scroll down to item 2.36

16 Feb 2009
Meteor fall unknown fireball over Austin, Texas. Surely it is a meteor but it must have been very bright to be so visible in daylight.

14 Feb 2009
More videos of collapsing buildings in demolition
archived item 1.204  Here is the archived story about the physics.  building in Mioveni, near Bucharest  cooling towers in South Yorkshire   two buildings in Glasgow

20 Jan 2009
More meteor falls
In addition to the link posted on 1 Dec (scroll down), here are some more links to videos showing meteors.  Sweden   United States, Idaho

2 Jan 2009
Somersaulting truck, bike jumps the Arc de Triomphe
Even if you don't like motorcycle or truck jumps, watch these two jumps --- astounding, especially Robbie Maddison's jump from a ramp onto the top of a replica of the Arc de Triomphe (10 stories high) and then from the top of that monument back onto a second ramp, requiring a free fall of 5 stories! Stunning, just stunning! BBC (good video)  Part 1: YouTube taken off television set, audio is not great but this includes interviews. Part 2

pdf file, item 1.81 other links concerning motorcycle long jumps, item 1.81 in The Flying Circus of Physics book

1 Dec 2008
Meteor fall   pdf file, item 1.37 meteor on police cruiser video the police video plus other videos from security cameras plus video of a fragment thought to be from the meteor

15 November 2008
Domino toppling   pdf file, item 1.68 world record of toppling dominoes

Crane collapse   archived item 1.206 Crane falls onto a car

Wheel of Death   archived item 1.205 Wheel of Death blindfolded

Building demolition   archived item 1.204 Building collapses when the foundation on one side gives way building demolition Cooling towers demolition building demolition Chinese dam demolition Three Gorges bridge demolished

Surfing   pdf file, item 2.69 surfing longboard, will be used in an attempt to break board-length record  video of the record-breaking ride. I'll discuss this item sometime soon but for now, can you see why surfing on a very long board is not a good idea because the physics requires a short board?   


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