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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Relativistic Baseball : What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?

The answer turns out to be “a lot of things”, and they all happen very quickly, and it doesn’t end well for the batter (or the pitcher). I sat down with some physics books, a Nolan Ryan action figure, and a bunch of videotapes of nuclear tests and tried to sort it all out. What follows is my best guess at a nanosecond-by-nanosecond portrait:

Avoid running at all times.-S. Paige Posted: April 13, 2013 at 11:36 AM | 17 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: aroldis chapman, nolan ryan, physics, sidd finch

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Shredder Posted: April 13, 2013 at 06:31 PM (#4413394)
Whoa, random callback to an article that was posted here who knows how many months ago.
   2. Dale Sams Posted: April 13, 2013 at 06:33 PM (#4413396)
1) I don't think the batter gets HPB. The ball hit his bat. Foul ball.

2) If the ball stays together, it's not just the city that gets leveled, but everything until the ball leaves the planet.

3) Isn't it quite likely that nothing since the Big Bang with that much mass has reached that speed before? I don't see how we can predict *what* will happen other than 'nothing good'.
   3. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: April 13, 2013 at 08:12 PM (#4413450)
Everything within roughly a mile of the park is leveled, and a firestorm engulfs the surrounding city. The baseball diamond is now a sizable crater, centered a few hundred feet behind the former location of the backstop.


So, this is a bad idea, then?

3) Isn't it quite likely that nothing since the Big Bang with that much mass has reached that speed before? I don't see how we can predict *what* will happen other than 'nothing good'.


Pretty certain that particles all the time, in masses heavier than a baseball are attaining the speed of light, or better than 90% of the speed of light. I'm thinking in particular of a sun encountering a black hole. I'm also sure there's room for discussion wrt what constitutes "that much mass" since everything is particles (and waves, and so on), and we'd have to decide how far apart particles must be in order to stop calling something a discrete thing.
   4. BDC Posted: April 13, 2013 at 10:36 PM (#4413502)
Who's the batter? Superman? Gandalf? Yoda?
   5. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: April 13, 2013 at 10:53 PM (#4413513)
Sidd Finch
   6. Mess with the Meat, you get the Wad! Posted: April 13, 2013 at 10:54 PM (#4413515)
Steve Garvey
   7. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: April 13, 2013 at 11:11 PM (#4413521)
Matt Wieters
   8. Gonfalon B. Posted: April 14, 2013 at 12:55 AM (#4413553)
Everything within roughly a mile of the park is leveled, and a firestorm engulfs the surrounding city. The baseball diamond is now a sizable crater, centered a few hundred feet behind the former location of the backstop.

This is an exaggeration of Tiger Stadium's condition.
   9. RMc's desperate, often sordid world Posted: April 14, 2013 at 08:47 AM (#4413592)
Everything within roughly a mile of the park is leveled, and a firestorm engulfs the surrounding city.


"Was that wrong? Should I not have done that?"
   10. They paved Misirlou, put up a parking lot Posted: April 14, 2013 at 10:20 AM (#4413616)
Awesome site, this one blew my mind.

"In the first Superman movie, Superman flies around Earth so fast that it begins turning in the opposite direction. This somehow turns back time [... ] How much energy would someone flying around the Earth have to exert in order to reverse the Earth's rotation?

—Aidan Blake


Someone recently blew my mind by telling me I’d been misinterpreting that scene all my life. I like their take on it way better:

Superman wasn't exerting a force on the Earth. He was just flying fast enough to go back in time. (Faster than light, I guess? Comic book physics.) The Earth changed direction because we were watching time run backward as he traveled. It didn't actually have anything to do with the direction he was flying.

Now that I see it, it makes a lot more sense. I mean, as much sense as a red-cape-and-outside-underwear time traveler can make.

A discussion of the reversal of the Earth’s spin—and what that even means—will have to wait for another article."
   11. Non-Youkilidian Geometry Posted: April 14, 2013 at 10:28 AM (#4413620)
Pretty certain that particles all the time, in masses heavier than a baseball are attaining the speed of light, or better than 90% of the speed of light.

Under the theory of relativity anything with mass can't ever reach light speed, and highest-energy massive particles that might approach anywhere near light speed have masses <<<<< the mass of a baseball.
   12. They paved Misirlou, put up a parking lot Posted: April 14, 2013 at 11:45 AM (#4413659)
Under the theory of relativity anything with mass can't ever reach light speed, and highest-energy massive particles that might approach anywhere near light speed have masses <<<<< the mass of a baseball.


OK, but in relativistic terms, .9 c isn't really that close to c. The relativistic mass equation is M = m/(square root of 1-v^2/c^2). at .9c, M = m/.44. Since m =~145g, the mass of a baseball traveling at .9c is ~329g or about 11.5 oz.

And, as pointed out, objects in the universe far more massive than a baseball routinely react speeds of .9 c or higher. The expanding core of a star in the initial stages of a type 1A supernova moves at close to c. A newly born neutron star can rotate at several thousand RPM, giving the surface an angular velocity of close to c.
   13. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: April 15, 2013 at 12:50 AM (#4414252)
A discussion of the reversal of the Earth’s spin—and what that even means—will have to wait for another article."

Holy crap, that's a lot of energy. Even on a cosmic scale the amount of force reguired to reverse the Earth's momentum in a few seconds is not unimpressive. Well, that and the destruction of all life on the planet as everything goes ass over teakettle. Imagine moving a thousand miles an hour as the ground under you screeches to a stop then reverses direction. The turmoil would probably knock planes out of the sky, too. Imagine all the particulate matter, and probably an entire layer of the earth's surface too would act like a skin slewing into the atmosphere. Thanks, Superman, you ############.

OK, but in relativistic terms, .9 c isn't really that close to c. The relativistic mass equation is M = m/(square root of 1-v^2/c^2). at .9c, M = m/.44. Since m =~145g, the mass of a baseball traveling at .9c is ~329g or about 11.5 oz.


Yep.

A newly born neutron star


The idea of those things actually freaks me out. Another I can't really get my mind around is the existence of 100 billion galaxies. It's too much.
   14. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: April 15, 2013 at 12:56 AM (#4414254)
double post
   15. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: April 15, 2013 at 01:07 AM (#4414259)
As far as the size of 'things' goes, and as to what might constitute the largest structures in the universe, density is all. In any case,

Astronomers have used the Subaru and Keck telescopes to discover gigantic filaments of galaxies stretching across 200 million light-years in space. These filaments, formed just 2 billion years after the Big Bang, are the largest structures ever discovered in the Universe. The filaments contain at least 30 huge concentrations of gas, each of which contains 10x the mass of the Milky Way.


Rather larger than your typical baseball.

   16. Walt Davis Posted: April 15, 2013 at 01:07 AM (#4414260)
I remember the good old days when it only took 100 billion galaxies to freak Jack Carter out.

The expanding core of a star in the initial stages of a type 1A supernova moves at close to c.

I'm guessing you don't want to be the catcher on that play either.
   17. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: April 15, 2013 at 01:31 AM (#4414266)
@16: Heh. However, you've inspired me to go for a walk later and feel out what the emotional limit is to my visceral ability to hold in mind whatever fraction of the size of the universe. Without getting shaky.

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