OCT 01, 2019 6:30 AM PDT

What do a Wing Nut and a Tennis Racket Have in Common?

WRITTEN BY: Daniel Duan

In 1985 during a mission to rescue the space station Salyut-7, Soviet astronaut Vladimir Dzhanibekov observed something rather strange: a free-flowing wingnut spun around its central axis for a few seconds, and without any force applied, it suddenly flipped 180 degrees to the opposite direction and continued spinning. 

He thought of it as a fresh discovery, but little did he know mechanisms of this mysterious movement have been described in classical mechanics for over a century. He was not alone, however. In 1991, a team of U.S. and Netherland researchers also reported what they believed was the first-of-its-kind discovery, about a weird behavior about a twisting tennis racket.

For example, when twisted by its handle or tossed with the net facing sideways, the racket maintains its rotational position until it hits the ground; but when you throw the racket with its net facing up/down, along its intermediate axis, a bizarre thing happens: it turns 180-degree mid-air. 

Both phenomena can be explained with the intermediate axis theorem. A solid, symmetrical object such as a tennis racket have three rotational axes — the ones with the maximum or minimum moment of inertia, and the one with intermediate moment of inertia. The theorem suggest that when an object spins exactly around its intermediate axis, the centrifugal force slowly accumulates and destabilizes its position, eventually leading to the object flipping to a position at the opposite direction.

Back to Dzhanibekov's moment of discovery, the Soviet astronaut did not take what he saw as a stroke of serendipity. Because he realized that a potentially apocalyptic consequence might be associated to this phenomenon, therefore keeping it as a secret. Want to find out what triggered Dzhanibekov's fear? Watch the video from Veritasium in full to find out yourself (spoiler alert: it is a-okay after all) 

Source: Veritasium via Youtube

About the Author
  • Graduated with a bachelor degree in Pharmaceutical Science and a master degree in neuropharmacology, Daniel is a radiopharmaceutical and radiobiology expert based in Ottawa, Canada. With years of experience in biomedical R&D, Daniel is very into writing. He is constantly fascinated by what's happening in the world of science. He hopes to capture the public's interest and promote scientific literacy with his trending news articles. The recurring topics in his Chemistry & Physics trending news section include alternative energy, material science, theoretical physics, medical imaging, and green chemistry.
You May Also Like
JUN 04, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Hydrogen-Powered Tankers Could Be the Future Face of Global Logistics
JUN 04, 2020
Hydrogen-Powered Tankers Could Be the Future Face of Global Logistics
International trade heavily depends on gigantic cargo ships to transport goods across oceans, and a majority of these ma ...
JUN 07, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Development in wearable brain scanner allows for enhanced measurements
JUN 07, 2020
Development in wearable brain scanner allows for enhanced measurements
Scientists from the University of Nottingham have published their most recent developments on a wearable 49 channel brai ...
JUL 02, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Carbon Nanolattices: Lighter Than (Atomic) Feathers, Tougher Than Diamonds
JUL 02, 2020
Carbon Nanolattices: Lighter Than (Atomic) Feathers, Tougher Than Diamonds
Carbon is known for its plentiful allotropes, such as the naturally existing graphite and diamond, as well as synthetic ...
JUL 12, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Scientists mimic nacre's strength and resiliency
JUL 12, 2020
Scientists mimic nacre's strength and resiliency
Did you know that mother of pearl - also called nacre - is not only stunningly beautiful but also one of the strongest m ...
JUL 28, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Self-healing polymer modeled after squid ring teeth protein
JUL 28, 2020
Self-healing polymer modeled after squid ring teeth protein
Scientists have developed a biodegradable biosynthetic polymer that mimics squid ring teeth proteins in their ability to ...
AUG 07, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Excipients: "Inactive" Drug Components Could Be Functioning Beyond Their Scopes
AUG 07, 2020
Excipients: "Inactive" Drug Components Could Be Functioning Beyond Their Scopes
Excipients are chemical additives to medications. They are incorporated into all kinds of pharmaceuticals to fulfil ...
Loading Comments...