Pennies DO NOT Kill


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220px-Empire_State_Building_from_the_Top_of_the_Rock.jpg    We all must have heard the myth if you drop a penny off of the Empire State Building and it hits someone they'll die.  People think the penny being dropped from such a high altitude picks up enough speed to kill an individual.  This is NOT TRUE!  
    The truth is people don't understand that air resistance plays a key role in any object falling.  Louis Bloomfield, a physics professor for the University of Virginia, said, "It slows down leaves, it slows down raindrops and it slows down pennies". A penny is heavier than a raindrop.  However, it still flutters like a leaf when it falls out of the sky.  
    The Experiment: Professor Bloomfield conducted a test to prove the myth is not true.  He attached a penny dispenser to a huge helium filled balloon.  As he released the balloon hundreds of feet into the air pennies came flying out of the dispenser.  The professor ran around trying to catch the pennies as they fell.  Bloomfield said when he was hit by the pennies it felt like nothing more than a bug hitting your body.  
     The experiment only sent the pennies hundreds of feet up in the air, the Empire State Building is thousands of feet up in the air.  However, the professor reported after about 50 feet the penny will hit full speed and just coast through the air.  
     This is an example of terminal velocity.  Terminal velocity is when an object falls due to gravity. No matter how high up an object goes, for example the balloon used in the experiment, the object would never pick up more speed.  Since a penny is lightweight, air resistance slows it down so much that its terminal velocity is slow.  Below are some formulas for terminal velocity. 
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    As we can see from the blogs posted there have been many myths created that we still believe today.  Without these blogs I would not have known the five second rule didn't exist and I wouldn't have known that dropping a penny off of the Empire State Building WOULDN'T kill anybody.  Some things in science are pretty cool and finding the reasoning behind all of these crazy myths makes it even better. 

3 Comments

I love learning about myths like these and I love watching that show MythBusters to ever see if those urban myths are true. Nicely written post, especially with the equation!

This is a quite interesting research. And I agree with your findings. The penny itself does not have enough mass , adding to that the terminal velocity that you mentioned with the air resistance. All that combined with the mass is certainly not enough to even break the skin.

That is so interesting! I live right outside of Manhattan and growing up I always heard stories about how people die from being hit on the head with a penny that fell out of the sky. I've always chose to believe it in fear of killing someone by accident! I was on the Empire State Building with my brother last year and he dropped a penny because he thought it was funny to do an experiment to see if the myth was true. I freaked out and was so scared he had hurt someone. Luckily no one died and now i see why. He then made me watch the Myth Busters episode to prove that it wasn't true in order to calm me down! I'm glad you cleared that up.

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