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Superman and the Laws of Physics

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					Superman and the Laws of Physics
When Superman first appeared in comic books, he obeyed the laws of physics much better than the Superman that you see today in the movies. The Superman of today’s movies can fly through the air, changing direction in mid flight even though he doesn’t have anything to push against that could cause the direction of his flight path to change. This is a clear violation of the laws of physics. The original Superman wasn’t like that at all. His ability to “fly” was a completely scientifically believable result of his great strength, which allowed him to jump incredible distances. Once he left the ground, his flight path was a parabolic arc that could not be altered, just like the path that you would get by throwing a ball or other projectile. Therefore, Superman had to be careful to aim in the right direction as he was making his initial jump. According to the very first Superman comic book (issue #1, June 1939), Superman was allegedly “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound” and his jumping range was given as about an eighth of a mile, which is 660 feet. Assuming that he could jump this distance vertically, the tall buildings that he leaped over would be 30 to 40 stories tall, which was quite high back in 1939. The picture shown here is a panel from that original Superman Issue #1 comic book. So here is today’s warmup problem, courtesy of Paul Brantly, who lent me a fascinating book called The Physics of Superheros, written by James Kakalios and published by Gotham Books. If the original Superman jumped upward with an initial velocity that enabled him to just barely reach the top of a building 660 feet high, what would that initial velocity need to be?

fn: drh060928

The Academy for Math, Engineering, and Science


				
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posted:5/29/2009
language:English
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