Science Questions

How does a fly fly in an elevator?

Sun, 17th Jun 2012

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Blaine asked:

Why is it that a fly caught in an elevator (or lift) doesn't hit the floor when it goes up (or, conversely, hit the ceiling if the lift goes down)?


Dave -   You have to think about the forces on a fly.  Itís got two big forces on it.  There is gravity pulling it down and then there's aerodynamic forces pulling it up. 

If you effectively let the lift start dropping then effectively, gravity is reduced because the lift is accelerating downwards so there's less force upwards on the floor on everybody, and essentially, the lift is moving down around the fly. 

Now, to start with, the fly has got quite a lot of inertia and itís just going to sit there, essentially staying still when the lift is going to move around it.  But a fly has got all sorts of complicated algorithms going on in its head to try and keep it where it wants to be.  And I wouldíve thought what goes on is that the fly notices it is higher than it wants to be so it stops flapping its wings as hard, so it will tend to drop down within the lift.  And so, it stays where it wants to be essentially just because it flies to where it wants to be.

Chris -   So if the fly werenít compensating, which is your answer, it probably would go visibly upwards or downwards according to which direction the lift is moving in?

Dave -   Yes, and probably, if the lift suddenly jolted downwards, then the fly would stay still and the lift would move around it and then certainly move upwards.


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Keep in mind that the air in the elevator is also relatively fixed with the elevator independent of the movement of the elevator.  So, the air would tend to not greatly disturb the fly's location.  It is quite possible that this component of mass movement of air would at least be as great of a factor as the variable gravity. CliffordK, Thu, 21st Jun 2012

What Dave said, did seem very agreeing....waht about this example :- If You Are Sitting In A Bus And Throw A PaperBall In The Air, Then Why Does Not The Paperball Go Behind as It Is Not In Contact With The Bus Or Sumone Sitting In The Bus? Vineet Chelsea Sawant, Thu, 12th Jul 2012

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