Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Relative Motion
Name:  Robert S.
Status: educator
Age: 20s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2000-2001


Question:
If I am in a parked car with the windows rolled up, and there is a fly hovering in the air next to me, if the car accelerates rapidly from rest, is it possible that the fly will hit the rear window? or will it continue to hover next to me as the car accelerates?


Replies:
It depends in part on what the fly has in mind as the car accelerates. A helium filled balloon is simpler since it has no mind of its own!

The balloon will go forward as the car accelerates. This is because the "up" direction points more forward in an accelerating car. You could try dropping a stone in an accelerating car to show that the "down" direction points backward.

I have enjoyed watching helium filled balloons behaving the opposite of what one expects objects to do as a car accelerates and brakes. Be careful, though, that the balloon doesn't interefere with the driver's safe operation of the car! One can argue that balloons behave in this way because of their "negative" mass. Their mass is not really negative, of course, but their density is less than the surrounding air.

The reason the balloon knows the "up" direction points forward in an accelerating car is that the air in the car moves backward (slightly) so that the air pressure and density are higher towards the back of the car. The balloon responds to the change in density of the air.

Dick Plano



Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory