Magnus Effect Makes a Basketball “Fly” Away from the Dam! How is That Possible?

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Have you ever heard of the Magnus Effect? Don’t worry if you have not as most of us (including me!) have not heard of this term, let alone know what it is used for.

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But I tell that even if you have not heard of this term before, you had surely seen it applied in soccer and other similar sports. For example, have you noticed how soccer players score a goal by making the ball curve away from the goal keeper in such a way that is difficult to predict where it would exactly go? If you’ve seen than before, then you’ve seen what Magnus Effect is like!

There’s this experiment shared by YouTube channel Veritasium of some guys dropping a basketball down a dam 126.5 m (415 feet) high. The first basketball was dropped without any tricks whatsoever (no spinning, etc.). As expected, it dropped straight down the dam.

Can you guess what happens to a ball which was spun hard before it was dropped? Although common sense might dictate that the ball should drop straight to the ground as the first one did, science will tell us otherwise. The added spin created a type of deflection that pushes the air flow beneath the ball, providing it a lift that makes it fly away from the dam instead of heading straight down!

The ball pushed down on the air; in turn, the air also pushes at the ball to provide lift. It is incredible to watch on video! Check out the one made by Veritasium:

The term “Magnus Effect” was chosen for this phenomenon in honor of Heinrich Gustav Magnus, the German physicist who described the effect in 1852. It is not, however, Magnus who first described the phenomenon as Sir Isaac Newton had already postulated the effect correctly as far back as 1672 but as Veritasium pointed out, there are already a lot of things named after Newton so the term goes to Magnus, instead.

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