Coriolis – What Are You Talking About?

But it control every move of our lives.

I fussed with my climbing ivy plant the other day, tucking stubborn shoots around supports, and being careful to follow the ‘natural’ twist they wanted to take.

And I mused over the cosmic force that makes counter-clockwise ‘right,’ and clockwise the ‘wrong’ way. It also amused me to realize the same force that made my vine determinedly turn ‘its own way’ is the same relentless force that flyers, sailors and astronauts must also cope with.

And what makes this whole thing more wonderful and almost unbelievable is that south of the equator,  everything turns exactly the opposite way. Everything there turns clockwise.

Flyers learn to circle a storm by flying to its right, going with the wind, instead of to the left which would be against it. South of the equator pilots naturally learn the opposite and it is one of the basics any flyer must quickly learn if they go into the ‘other’ side of the globe. This phenomenon was the cause of many a fatal accident in the maelstrom of WWII air fighting before these basic Laws of the Universe were known.

Of course, you probably know more about this force than I do, but still in my elementary way, I plod along. And if it is new to you, it’s called coriolis. Read on and see what it means.

Your vines grow counter clockwise and trying to change them is useless. The water swirling down the drains from a full bathtub, sink and our toilets all agree… Dogs observe the identical rule as they circle to ‘make their bed.’ Dancers as they pirouette, roulette tables, eddies in a stream, the trade winds and the Gulf Stream all obey this planetary law.

It comes, as you may know or guess, from the force made by the earth turning underneath us. We shoot a man to the moon, but we don’t aim where the moon is when the shot is made. No, men who understand this force to its ultimate (?) strength, aim the capsule to where the moon will be, in relation to the earth, when the arrival time is scheduled.

During World War I, records tell us the Germans knew, but didn’t know the far-reach of this law, but they knew enough, when shooting  their “Big Bertha” cannon, only 70 miles to Paris, their goal, they aimed it a mile to the left to correct for the distance the world would turn in that short three minute time lag.

 And a rocket fired to New York from the North Pole would, unless adjusted for, land near Chicago after an hour’s flight. For, in that hour, the earth’s turning would put the Windy City exactly where the Big Apple was. And we don’t even know or feel that we’re buzzing through space.

It is why an airplane flying east (faster than the earth) is lighter than the same plane going west; why a pendulum clock, taken to a northern country runs fast and it is the secret of the gyroscopic compass.

People at the time of the Mayflower knew the trip to the New World would be faster than the “speedy” return to the Mother Country and adjusted their provisions that way.  I doubt if they knew why, but know they did, and careful plans were made to take care of the facts.

Coriolis…a new word? Yeah, it was to me, but I read lots of stuff and found that while the word men invented is new, the force it tells of has been with us since God created heaven and earth and while you can’t rise in the sky to feel the constant trade winds, can’t see the adjustment made on a moon flight, or can’t travel south of the equator to test it out, you can still see its force.

Watch your Morning Glories twist and turn. Watch your bathwater, watch your dog. Ask any pilot. Coriolis, unseen, unfelt, mysterious, but oh so real.

 And I have no doubt that some smart men and women are, or have already, studied to figure out how it affects you and me in our daily lives.  The way we walk? Our car’s miles-per-gallon of gas?  I’m smart (?) enough to know that if it affects the birds, animals and vines, why should we be ignored?  The name is used for the dozens of products on sale that ‘guarantee’ to straighten and reverse the natural curl found in some human hair.

Coriolis. Know it or not, or even give a dang about it, it’s here, and always has been and always will be.  Next time you take a bath, take time to wait a moment and just try to change how the water goes down the drain.  Good luck.

Copyright 2012 Ethel Ohlin Bradford


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