04 July 2009

Physics on the 4th

Any of you who have ever taken one of my classes will know I can't resist the urge to encourage thinking in terms of physics. Basically, I get joy out of ruining movies, football games, and the like. So, why should a fireworks display be any different?

I was reading one of the many physics blogs I follow this morning and thought the exercise to find the size of fireworks displays was quite interesting. I mean, who among you has never thought about it? I constantly (and I am being totally serious) think things like "how do they get those fireworks to be big circles?" and "would this display look the same from everyone's perspective?". If you are interested in a simple method to determine the size of these fireworks, using only your brain, your eyes, and your knuckles, try this. If you have ever done any astronomical observations with me, you will find this method of measurement is remarkably similar to some exercises we have done together. In fact, while you are waiting for the fireworks to start, use the moon to see just how accurate your calculations are. The nearly full moon will be rising right around sunset, so you will have some time to kill while you are waiting for it to be completely dark (look East or opposite of Sun). Be careful! The equation given uses time to measure distance and it is in feet. I don't think you want to know the diameter of Moon in feet.

Sure, it will be mentally challenging, but if everything were easy, where would the fun in life be? Please, if I have ruined fireworks for you, let me know about your experience with a comment! Happy 4th of July to each of you and your family.

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