Science Questions

Are falling bullets dangerous?

Sun, 28th Nov 2010

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Question

Robert, Billericay asked:

Lying on the floor, revolver in one hand, rifle in the other, if you fire straight up in the air, will the bullets be harmful when they hit the ground?

 

Answer

Chris -   Oh yes, they certainly will be.  After Saddam Hussein pulled out of Kuwait – when he first invaded Kuwait, if you remember back at the first Gulf War, there were actually a number of people who got killed by people who went out in the streets and fired their guns straight up in the air.  And the bullets that came back down again killed people.  And you'd might think, “Well, why?  They're just falling bullets.”  But the point is that the bullet is given a degree of energy by the gun and that bullet will convert that energy as it goes up into the air, into gravitational potential energy and it will slow down in the process.  But then it’s got enormous amount of potential energy.  It will then fall back down to Earth and there will be some losses because the bullet is interacting with the air which will have frictional effects, and slow it down a little bit.  But at the same time it will end up coming back to the ground, because bullets are pretty streamlined, at almost the same speed it left the gun.  So it will come cannoning down into your head if you're underneath it, at the same speed it left the gun. You're effectively being shot from above, so very, very dangerous.  Never do it.

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