Newton's 3rd and Basters
Name: Emily P.
If a baster is tied closed, floated in water, and is
suddenly untied, so that it takes in water, I have found that it will not
move. A baster that squirts water out will move backwards according to
Newton's third law. Why will it not move if it takes water in?
This is a good question illustrating some basic ideas on Newton's Laws
which are rather subtle.
When you first untie the baster, I presume water is accelerated into
the baster because the water pressure is higher than the partial
vacuum inside the baster. It is, however, pushed in by the water in
the pot, not pulled in by the baster. (If you do not believe this,
try the experiment in a vacuum). If the water pressure on the
outside of the nozzle is reduced, there may be a small force pushing
the baster in the direction the nozzle points. However, when the
water rushing in is stopped, perhaps by hitting the back wall of the
baster, Newton's 3rd law says the baster will experience a backward
So I believe the baster will not move, although the argument is subtle
and not all my colleagues agree with me! Note also that the center of
mass of the water does not change, which should also prove that the
baster does not move.
A similar problem concerns a normal lawn sprinkler which rotates due
to reaction to the force exerted on the water sprayed out. Note that
the water changes direction as it approaches the nozzle and keeps
going forever, at least as far as the sprinkler is concerned.
If you now put that sprinkler under water and attach it to a pump so
water is sucked INTO the nozzles, what does it do? I believe the
correct answer is that it does not turn. The water also changes
direction as before, which would tend to make the sprinkler turn in
the same direction, but the water, which was initially at rest, goes
to the center of the sprinkler perpendicular to the direction the
sprinkler might turn, so there is no change in momentum in that
direction. The reduction in pressure at the entrance to the nozzle
must balance the 3rd law force as the water goes around the corner.
I hope this is helpful; it is very lengthy, but it a puzzling
phenomena. If you can find a sprinkler, a tub, and a water pump,
please let me know what you learn!
Best, Dick Plano...
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Update: June 2012