Back in the 1960s, space scientists needed to know if it is true that a cat always lands on its feet:
NASA contributed funding to the paper “A Dynamical Explanation of the Falling Cat Phenomenon,” published in the International Journal of Solids and Structures, by Stanford’s T.R. Kane and M.P. Scher.
What was so significant about the paper was that it demonstrated that cats are physically capable of rotating their body in mid-air to right themselves when falling. A cat employs specific motor functions in order to achieve this self-righting mechanism, and the paper analyzed these functions as equations that could then be applied to humans.
While this function isn’t very useful to humans on earth, it’s critically important in space, as astronauts seeks to right their bodies traveling through zero gravity. Wolfgang Wild, “How flying cats got us to the moon. Really.” at Considerable
Kane and Scher neither lifted nor dropped a single cat. Instead, they created a mathematical abstraction of a cat: two imaginary cylinder-like chunks, joined at a single point so the parts could (as with a feline spine) bend, but not twist. When they used a computer to plot the theoretical bendings of this theoretical falling chunky-cat, the motions resembled what they saw in old photographs of an actual falling cat. They conclude that their theory “explains the phenomenon under consideration”.
In 1993, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, applied some heavier-duty mathematics and physics tools to the same question. Richard Montgomery’s study, called Gauge Theory of the Falling Cat, leaps and bends across 26 pages of a mathematics journal. Then it mutters that “the original solutions of Kane and Scher [are] both the optimal and the simplest solutions”. Marc Abrahams, “Cat physics – and we are not making this up” at The Guardian
Here’s the paper.
Hat tip: Blazing Cat Fur
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10 November 2018
I (O’Leary for News 😉 ) was also ordered by the three cats to link to this story:
Researchers: We tend to overestimate dog intelligence
and this one
Extinction: Cats face rap for killing off dogs (Untrue, I am told, but dogs should be careful anyway … )