Measuring Drag

A scuffed baseball sitting on dirt and gravel.

After a noticeable rise in the prevalence of home runs beginning in 2015, Major League Baseball commissioned a report that found the increase was caused by a small 3% reduction in drag on the league’s baseballs. When such small differences have a big effect on the game, it’s important to be able to measure a baseball’s drag in flight accurately.

In the past, that measurement has often been done in a wind tunnel, but the mounting mechanisms used there result in drag measurements that are a little higher than what’s seen from video tracking in actual games. Now researchers have developed a new free-flight method for measuring a baseball’s drag. The drag measurements from their new method are lower than those for wind-tunnel-mounted baseballs and in better agreement with video-based methods. The authors’ method should be adaptable to other sports like cricket and tennis, which will hopefully provide new insight into the subtleties of their aerodynamics. (Image credit: T. Park; research credit: L. Smith and A. Sciacchitano; via Ars Technica; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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