NASA has converted Super Bowl 2016 into an aerodynamic display of scientific dimensions.
NASA is up to its experimental ways again. Aerodynamics is the study of how fluids flow around objects in motion. These fluids may be liquid or gaseous.
As they move in streamlined fashion around cylinders and spheres, NASA’s technicians predict and test how changing the shapes of the objects may change their surrounding flow patterns.
These may later on form the basis of aircraft that speed through the atmosphere or a mission that travels to Mars in a bullet-like way.
One of NASA’s research stations is located a few miles from the Super Bowl. The Levi’s Stadium in which the Super Bowl 50 was held is there in all its resplendent glory as a tribute to sports extravaganza.
The aerodynamic experts at NASA have taken to testing the aerodynamic flow surrounding sports balls. This is an interesting field of inquiry. Sports is definitely a niche of the human experience that any astronaut can relate to.
At NASA, physical activity is of prime importance. All sorts of sports balls have the air flowing around them in different patterns.
The best method of tackling a football is one question. Then the curve in a curve ball is of key significance. A knuckle ball is also very intriguing for NASA engineers.
Student intern Joe Burces at NASA’s Ames Research Center observes football in fluid dynamics chamber. Credits: NASA Ames / Dominic Hart
Test facilities where various fluids flow over the curved surfaces of different balls have become the order of the day. Wind tunnels – both large and small – and water channels are the best means of gauging the movements and efficiency of all sorts of sports balls.
Smoke, lasers and flourescent dyes may be included in the repertoire of the fluids and so the aerodynamic lines become visible to the researchers.
Changes in the lines are a criteria for states of flow. Near the ball’s surface is the boundary layer. This layer determines the state and function of the ball.
The surface roughness and the distribution of forces underlies the movement of the ball. A smooth golf ball will not travel as far as a dimpled one. The dimples make the boundary layer turbulent.
This makes the golf ball go the distance by clinging on to the carrying medium which is the air flow. American football has a ball that is shaped like a wing. And it behaves differently from a soccer ball.
The style of throwing this ball by a quarterback is also quite a contrast to how say David Beckham would kick a football. A slight variation in the kick may cause the team to lose.
Interviews with sports athletes show that they are cognizant of this fact of aerodynamics through sheer practical experience on the field.
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