Simulating a Curveball

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Spinning an object in motion through a fluid produces a lift force perpendicular to the spin axis. Known as the Magnus effect, this physics is behind the non-intuitive behavior of football’s corner kick, volleyball’s spike, golf’s slice, and baseball’s curveball. The simulation above shows a curveball during flight, with pressure distributions across the ball’s surface shown with colors. Red corresponds to high pressure and blue to low pressure. Because the ball is spinning forward, pressure forces are unequal between the top and bottom of the ball, with the bottom part of the baseball experiencing lower pressure. As with a wing in flight, this pressure difference between surfaces creates a force – for the curveball, downward. (Video credit: Tetra Research)

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