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How 150-MPH Golf Balls Remind Us to Question Everything We See

How 150-MPH Golf Balls Remind Us to Question Everything We See

I have a friend that doesn’t believe a single cool video or picture he sees on the internet is real. “That’s fake, totally fake,” he says when presented with any remotely interesting image. If you posted his own wedding video to YouTube he’d question its authenticity (though that one’s not that interesting). It doesn’t seem like a fun way to go through life, being unable to enjoy any given video without skepticism. But that questioning and incredulity is probably a pretty good attitude to take when it comes to matters of science, especially on the web. Otherwise you can end up being fooled easily. Like when watching competing videos of a golf ball hitting a steel plate at 150 miles per hour.

We came across the first of two such videos at Boing Boing after it was shared by the YouTube account viral videos. At 70,000 frames per second, we get to see how a seemingly real golf ball completely contorts itself and yet stays in tact as it strikes a steel plate at a high speed and bounces off. Upon impact it nearly flattens into a pancake, before rebounding like a quick moving tidal wave, warping back and forth, creating oblong shapes as the energy transfers from one side to the other.

It seems almost impossible to believe.

Because it is.

Even though it seems legitimate (it’s in grainy black and white, so it looks like it was filmed by some government scientists), some skeptical viewers called its results into question. And with good reason, as the below video from the United States Golf Association of a definitely real golf ball, the kind used by professional golfers on the PGA Tour, striking a steel plate at 150 miles per hour, pretty clearly proves.

Yeah, exactly. Those are dramatically different results. While the latter ball definitely warps and compresses, the effect isn’t nearly as pronounced as the first video. The real golf ball never comes anywhere close to flattening and returns to its normal shape much more quickly, without any of that ebbing and flowing in the first ball.

Without a legitimate, reliable source to disprove the first video it would be easy to accept it as truth, and we’d all be wrong. That’s a good lesson to always be reminded about when it comes to trusting sources and questioning what we haven’t verified.

But that’s not to say we can’t enjoy the first video. If anything, I wish we knew what that ball was made of so we can learn from it. Is it some type of soft rubber? Is it a foam practice golf ball? It’s still a great display of the properties of physics, and it would have value on its own if we knew more about it.

At the very least we can learn about a real golf ball from the second video. To give you some idea of how fast the ball is moving here, and just how strong golf balls really are, the leader on the PGA tour this year in club head speed is golfer Andrew Loupe, with an average speed of striking the ball at 125.55 mph (he also had the fastest single swing so far at 130.92 mph). So even though this video reverses the object moving here from the metal club head to the golf ball, it increases the speed capable of the fastest swinging golfer, showing the type of force and energy the golf ball can withstand.

Those real results are cool enough on their own without falling prey to something that isn’t accurate. My friend may not be right to believe every internet video is “totally fake,” but questioning the things you see is important, because not everything is totally real either.

What do you think the “fake” golf ball is made of? What other online videos do you question the authenticity of? Tee off in our comments below with your thoughts.

Featured Image: Universal Pictures

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