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Can a Penny Dropped from Empire State Building Kill You? YouTuber Risks Life to Debunk Myth

By: Buzz Staff

Edited By: Anurag Verma

News18.com

Last Updated: October 03, 2022, 15:33 IST

New Delhi, India

Can a penny dropped from Empire State Building kill you? YouTuber Veritasium explains the fatal physics of falling objects. (YouTube: Veritasium)

Can a penny dropped from Empire State Building kill you? YouTuber Veritasium explains the fatal physics of falling objects. (YouTube: Veritasium)

Can pennies flung from the Empire State Building turn deadly for humans? Science YouTuber Derek Muller, who runs the popular channel 'Veritasium,' has the answer.

Myths, urban legends, or folklore- however you wish to classify them- have cemented a place in our society. These pieces of false information or misconceptions have stood the test of time, with many of us believing them to be true. What do you do next? You pass the baton of such urban myths to another person. The word-of-mouth of the myth cycle continues.

Bulls get angry at colour red? False. Do we use only 10% of our brains? False. The Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure visible from space. False again. Myths such as these and many more have travelled many a generation only to be later debunked by science.

Another myth that is casually tossed around every so often is: A penny tossed from the US Empire State Building can kill you. This is where science steps in to prove that a 2.5-gram penny doesn’t become a dangerous projectile when flung from the 443-meter-high, 102-storey building situated in Manhattan, New York.

Veritasium / YouTube
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Science YouTuber Derek Muller, who runs the popular channel ‘Veritasium,’ recently teamed up with the OG myth buster, the legendary Adam Savage, to “debunk" the myth around pennies turning into lethal weapons if flung from tall structures, more specially here, the Empire State Building. It’s worth noting that the penny “myth" has long been debunked by curious nerds. Only this time, on a rare occasion, someone has actually taken a hit to prove the same.

In the now-viral video, Muller puts himself on the line. Savage boards a helicopter suspended high above, and is armed with a bucket of pennies. Savage amusingly tosses them. Muller, visibly tense, takes a few hits. Their experiment is successful. Muller escapes unhurt with a couple of stings. Savage declares proudly that the myth has been busted. Science once again wins the day.

Veritasium / YouTube

But shouldn’t a penny travelling at supposed heightened speed put humans strolling around the building at risk?

Air resistance and weight

Muller, in his video, explains how the air resistance coupled with the light weight of the penny play a vital role in eliminating the risk factor of the penny fracturing your skull if it were to land on your head.

The YouTuber cites a study that explains how falling objects could prove fatal for humans if they were to carry kinetic energy exceeding 68 joules- the minimum kinetic energy required to crack the human skull. A penny only carries kinetic energy of about 0.2 joules. If you were faced with, say, a baseball or hail storm approaching from a high altitude, it would be a different story altogether as either of the objects would carry an energy of over 80 joules.

Veritasium aka Muller brings back the iconic Hammer Vs Feather experiment conducted by Apollo 15’s Commander David Scott on the Moon to show the power or lack thereof of air resistance. The demo performed by Scott proved Gallelio’s theory that objects in a vacuum would, in fact, fall at the same rate. Scott drops both hammer and feather at the same time from the same height and both objects fall on the surface of the moon at the same time.

But the earth has dense air. This air resistance experienced by the penny on our planet reduces its acceleration and thus, it reaches its terminal velocity which is at most 80km/hr. Without the air resistance, the penny’s terminal velocity could reach up to 300km/hr. Should you multiply the Empire building several times in height, and the penny’s terminal velocity wouldn’t exceed 80km/hr.

This, by no means, is the exhaustive explanation that Veritasium provides in his video to debunk the penny-Empire building myth.

Watch his now-viral video here:

You can also check Adam Savage’s penny drop wind tunnel that he built for MythBusters. The wind tunnel that he created tested the terminal velocity of a falling penny.

Meanwhile, back in 2021, YouTuber Veritasium hopped on a helicopter to solve a ‘controversial’ physics question at US Olympiad.

“How does a uniform cable beneath a helicopter hang?"

This physics question on the qualifying exam for the 2014 US Physics Olympiad team had gone viral, simply because no one could agree on the answer.

The YouTuber gave a thorough explanation here.

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first published:October 03, 2022, 15:22 IST
last updated:October 03, 2022, 15:33 IST