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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Myth Busting Monday - Penny Drop

MYTH: A Penny dropped from the top of a tall building could kill a pedestrian

I have visited the Empire State Building a few times; the first time was in 7th grade on a school trip and even in 7th grade I had the thought cross my mind 'what would happen if I dropped something off the top of the building?' While on the observation deck, my best friend and I found an observatory ticket that some one must have dropped, it was the size of a normal raffle ticket. Being a 12 year old, away from home for the first time, on the complete opposite side of the country and being with my group of friends, we threw it off. To our surprise, it just seemed to float through the air; it would fall a little then a gust of wind would blow it higher and it basically just floated away. When it was time to leave the Empire State Building we casually mentioned the 'ticket launching' to our teacher, he grew very concerned and proceeded to give us a lecture on how dangerous that was. If only I knew then what I know now.

The famous myth busting duo, Jamie and Adam from the TV show Mythbusters have tested this myth on their show. Here is their procedure for testing this myth:

the Mythbusters tried to find the terminal velocity (maximum free-fall speed) of a penny compared to a human's by skydiving. They found out that the pennies had a slower terminal velocity than a human's, so they set up an experiment in the workshop. The Mythbusters set up a windpipe testing for terminal velocity (basically a tube facing upright with a leafblower with controllable throttle on the bottom). They found out the terminal velocity, and then fired the pennies at that velocity (with a modified staple gun) into a person's head and a sidewalk. There was no damage to either of them. After, the pennies were shot at their hand, and no real damage was done, a little sore/stinging.
Conclusion: ---- Pennies dropped from a skyscraper cannot fall in a way that they can implant themselves in the ground/ kill someone. They don't have enough mass.[source]
I have actually seen this episode and watched them fire pennies onto their hands. I looks like it hurts but it really doesn't do much damage.

I like how covers this myth:
A penny isn't the most aerodynamic of weapons. A combination of its shape and wind friction means that, tossed even from the 1,250-foot Empire State Building, it would travel fast enough merely to sting an unlucky pedestrian. [source]
This is one myth where I have had some actual experience with what the myth is talking about, and although I haven't conducted the exact experiment to test this myth, from what I have experienced I can conclude that this myth is false.

Conclusion: False

What are your thoughts about this myth, let us know in the comments

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