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Hanging over fall football

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NASA/JPL image of Asteroid Ida (left) and its moon, Dactyl (right).

joy moses-Hall.jpg.jpg

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The time has come to Ida-lize some hang time.

Leaves hang precariously from branches, youth hang out at campus festivals, and footballs hang in the air between punt and post. On footballs, in particular, hang the hopes and dreams of autumn time.

When a football is kicked on Earth, the crowd gasps as the ball goes up, up, up, spinning away from Earth, but slowing down in its upward climb even as it slides sideways, then, for the briefest of times, it stops its upward motion altogether, then begins to fall, still sliding, coming back down in an arc following a path not unlike the umbrella-shape of a parabola. The longer it hangs, the farther it goes. A typical 50-yard kickoff (measured from toe to turf) hangs three seconds and soars 40 feet high.

Taking the game on the road to another planet changes its intensity. On Jupiter, the gasp would be short-lived. Jupiter’s gravity is 2.5 times stronger than Earth’s, and the parabola is 2.5 times shorter. Jupiter snaps the ball back to the ground 2.5 times faster than on Earth. The boot that travels 50 yards and hangs three seconds down the Earth field would go only 20 yards and hang for a little more than a second on Jupiter. Jupiter is bigger, so it is harder for things to rise away, and footballs would be yanked down sooner and quicker.

But imagine a spectacular football game on the asteroid Ida.

Ida is an oblong rock that looks like a 40-mile baked potato. It is about a 100 million times smaller (by mass) than Earth, and so its surface gravity is a miniscule fraction of Earth’s. A football punt of the same impetus as the 50-yarder on Earth would feature a staggering hang time of forty minutes on Ida! And the ball would travel almost 40,000 yards — 20 miles! — downfield. On its parabola, it would go so high — five miles high, lost in the dark-as-night Ida sky — that it would never actually come back down.

A kick — indeed, a vigorous jump — could launch ball and kicker off the asteroid into an interplanetary journey, and by the time one reached that five-miles-up mark, puny Ida would be too far away to pull it back down. As it continued to drift away, out to 50 miles above Ida, the football might there encounter Ida’s tiny moon, Dactyl, which is only one mile across. Dactyl is like a large pebble whirling around the tumble-spinning Ida. From Dactyl, with a tenuous gravity so scant that a Dactylian pedestrian might have to tether to the surface to keep from accidentally drifting off, even the feeblest athlete could regularly lob balls into space.

At the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, high soaring footballs that sliced into the end zone were dreaded. Freshman cadets of the Corps, including my classmates in 1978, were required to attend home games, in their dress uniforms, to support the team and fully express that support with pride pushups.

A pride pushup is the familiar prone calisthenic, but exercised with a swell of delight inside one’s heart. Whenever the Coast Guard Bears scored, 200 cadets in the stands stopped and dropped to toes and palms, shouting, “one, sir” to the crowd. Two hundred dark blue dress coats dipped and tipped again. “Two, sir!” Two hundred hearts took flight with delight. “Three, sir!” Four hundred sleeves flexed to their necks over pecs and solar plex. “Four, sir!” Four hundred shoulders heaved to achieve. “Five, sir!” and on up to 25.

Some cadets were looped over bleachers, some found a grassy knoll from which to push up, others crowded together like champagne bubbles yearning to break free, cheek to cheek and bumper to bumper in esprit de TD.

The hang top of a pride pushup is thankfully short, but transport that pushup to Ida and it is out of this world. Time to hang up and Ida-lize the hang time.

Joy Moses-Hall teaches, physics, Earth science and astronomy at Pitt Community College. She has a PhD in oceanography and is the author of the novel Wretched Refuge. She has Follow @jmoseshall on Facebook.


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The time has come to Ida-lize some hang time.

Leaves hang precariously from branches, youth hang out at campus festivals, and footballs hang in the air between punt and post. On footballs, in particular, hang the hopes and dreams of autumn time.

When a football is kicked on Earth, the crowd gasps…

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