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Welcome to the Greenwood.Net Curiosity Corner

The Spinning Earth

Apr 14, 2021

Curiosity Corner
By
Dr. Jerry D. Wilson,
Professor Emeritus of Physics
Lander University


Question: At the equator, the earth travels about 1,000 mph due to its rotation. Why can you not take a small plane that travels 100 mph and fly for ten hours in the opposite direction the earth turns and be 1,000 miles west of where you started? (Asked by a curious, lost pilot.)

Reply: Although we don’t realize it or sense it, we are traveling through space pretty fast on the rotating earth. Someone at the equator goes in a circle about 1,000 mph. At our latitude here in the southeastern region of the United States, that speed is only about 670 mph. We go around in a smaller circle in the same 24 hours. And, to really get going, we are traveling around the sun with the earth at about 66,700 mph.

Back to your question. The reason you can’t get ahead by flying that way is because the air, or atmosphere, rotates with the earth. (Gravity has it attached.) If it weren’t, we would have one big wind as we rotated through it. So, when flying n still air, your reference frame would be the earth and the air, and in ten hours, you would fly 1,000 miles relative to your starting point.

There can be slight variations. You would speed up if you had a tail wind. Say this was 10 mph. Then your ground speed (relative to the earth) would be 110 mph. On the other hand, a head wind can slow you down.

Question: What does horseradish have to do with horses? (Asked by a curious horse owner.)

Reply: In a couple of words, not much. The horseradish is a perennial plant of the mustard family. The roots contain pungent oil that gives it its bite. In processing, the horseradish is grated and mixed with white vinegar, making it a good sinus-clearing condiment.

The horseradish has been around for a long time. The early Egyptians cultivated it, as did the Greeks. When it got to Europe, it was called, “meerrettich,” which is German for “sea radish.” It grows well by the sea, and in some moist areas it is considered to be a troublesome weed.

The story goes that when growing horseradish spread to England, the German pronunciation of “meer” was taken to be “mare,” as in the old gray mare. It does sound sort of like that if you know German. So, we had mareradish, which led to the general name of horseradish.

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): “Children aren’t happy with nothing to ignore, that’s what parents were created for.” -Ogden Nash

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC, 29649, or email jerry@curiosity-corner.net. Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to www.curiosity-corner.net.

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