162: Angular Momentum

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
Angular Momentum
With reasonable assumptions about latitude and body shape, how much time might she gain them? Note: whatever the answer, sunrise always comes too soon. (Also, is it worth it if she throws up?)
Title text: With reasonable assumptions about latitude and body shape, how much time might she gain them? Note: whatever the answer, sunrise always comes too soon. (Also, is it worth it if she throws up?)

[edit] Explanation

Angular momentum is the force upon an object having a certain velocity while spinning. You may remember the certain strain when a spinning yoyo returned into your hand, giving it that much "slip" to discomfort you. The energy of that momentum does that. Angular momentum is also forced upon the Earth, as it is spinning 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This 24/7 rotation enables us to have a clock. We say that the Earth is running "clockwise". But viewed from the north of the ecliptic, the Earth in fact turns counter-clockwise.

Nevertheless, Megan tries to work against this (massive) energy. She is spinning counter-clockwise, trying to generate energy to reduce the Earth's moving. Her move will force the Earth to slow down clockwise, but a stick figure just does not have the mass for a measurable effect. So, it's obvious that she will not be able to alter the turn of the Earth. But the romance part is also obvious, who wouldn't want to be longer with the one they truly love?

Randall states the obvious in the title text: While not being able to reverse time, enjoy your night time. Sunrise always comes too early.

[edit] Transcript

[Cueball sits on his bed, looking at Megan who is spinning. It is night.]
Cueball: What are you doing?
Megan: Spinning counterclockwise
Megan: Each turn robs the planet of angular momentum
Megan: Slowing its spin the tiniest bit
Megan: Lengthening the night, pushing back the dawn
Megan: Giving me a little more time here

[edit] Trivia

  • This is one of the five comics linked at the bottom part of the xkcd.com website.
comment.png add a comment! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


The issue date is not given, as i don't have a clue about it. Could someone fix this? Rikthoff (talk) 19:30, 3 August 2012 (EDT)

When the page was updated to the new comic template by User:Bpothier he fixed the date. lcarsos (talk) 20:48, 28 August 2012 (UTC)

That actually is a neat physics puzzle, which has probably (i.e. certainly) been addressed somewhere on the net. I may incorporate that some day. --Quicksilver (talk) 05:58, 24 August 2013 (UTC)

I tried to calculate the change in Earth's period, assuming that she was standing in the north pole (latitude = 90º N), where her spinning would have more effect. I either did something wrong, or my TI-84 Plus is not capable of detecting the very small effect her spinning would have on the Earth's rotation. I assumed the Earth had a period of exactly 24 hours, and got the same value to the second, even if she was spinning at 1000 turns per second, which seems like a lot.

Here's the formula:

L_Earth_i = L_Earth_f + L_spinner <=>

I_Earth * (2*PI)/T_Earth_i = I_Earth * (2*PI)/T_Earth_f + I_spinner* (2*PI) * f_spinner <=>

(1/T_Earth_f) = (1/T_Earth_i) - (I_spinner/I_Earth)*f_spinner <=>

T_Earth_f = 1/((1/T_Earth_i) - (I_spinner/I_Earth)*f_spinner)

Where the variables have names in the format:

[variable name]_[object it refers to]_[situation (i or f stand for initial and final)]

L = Angular Moment

I = Moment of Inertia

T = Period of rotation about one's axis

f = frequency

I used as values:

T_Earth_i = 86400 seconds (24 hours exactly)

I_spinner = 62,04 Kg.m^2 (Found on Wolfram|Alpha, for a 62Kg adult human being)

I_Earth = 8,03e+37 Kg.m^2 (http://scienceworld.wolfram.com/physics/MomentofInertiaEarth.html)

f_spinner = the frequency of the woman's spinning in complete turns per second. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Taking that a bit further, the relative decrease is:
  (T_Earth_f - T_Earth_i)/T_Earth_i = 1 / (I_Earth/(I_spinner*T_Earth_i*f_spinner) - 1)
     = 1 / ( 1.5 e+28 - 1) ~= 67 e-30
Fwiw, the absolute value is 5.767 yocto-seconds. If the entire world population would spin at that 1000 turns per second (and at favourable locations as in your assumptions), the effect will still be a measly 0.041 pico-seconds. So T_Earth_f = 86 399.999 999 999 999 958 ... But the TI-84 only has about 14 digits precision, i believe, so even that won't show up. -- 22:46, 30 October 2013 (UTC)

Is it possible for someone to write an equation that factors in latitude (and, if relevant, longitude) that we could plug our locations into and get a value from? That would be awesome. Thanks. 02:48, 23 February 2014 (UTC)

The visual style and theme of this comic is clearly referencing the 'Spinning Ballerina Optical Illusion' (evidenced by the grey-to-white gradient 'glow', as well as her arm and leg positions). 03:03, 30 September 2014 (UTC)

The 'Spinning Ballerina' optical illusion does not apply here, Megan clearly stated that she was spinning 'counterclockwise' and due to the fact that she is drawn with hair (not a silhouette) lets you know where she is facing. Therefore the bent leg on the right of the image is her left leg. Plus there aren't many ways to draw a stick figure 'spinning'. Now if it were Cueball doing the spinning THEN I would agree with you because there would not be a reference point to make any type of judgement and therefore a point could be made that could be a reference Randall was trying to make. Nexxuz (talk)

The momentum of Megan is in fact one order of magnitude smaller than what appeared in above calculation, so the dilation effect is still smaller.

http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=moment+of+inertia+of+solid+cylinder+for+a%3D0.25m%2Cmass%3D62kg (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

After reading this comics, I got one question. I thought one cant change the total momentum of a closed system of bodies. I mean, from the point of view outside of Earth, she would be spinning, but the momentum which Megan, or whatever her name is, gained in counter-clock-wise direction would also show in Earth clock-wise direction (positively). Basically I am referring to a situation of a man walking on a boat. (the boat moves, the man moves, but the position man-lake is still the same). So I figured it should be in this way. She spins, yeah, but the Earth now spins in opposite direction a little more, so in the end it is still the same.

Now, she could totally delay time by approaching light speed as she spins, which would be weird though as her head (closer to rotational axis) would have smaller velocity than her hands (and thus faster time flow) resulting in, hmm, her body parts getting lost in time? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Personal tools


It seems you are using noscript, which is stopping our project wonderful ads from working. Explain xkcd uses ads to pay for bandwidth, and we manually approve all our advertisers, and our ads are restricted to unobtrusive images and slow animated GIFs. If you found this site helpful, please consider whitelisting us.

Want to advertise with us, or donate to us with Paypal or Bitcoin?