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So What Would Happen If You Could Throw A Baseball At Near Light Speed?

Randall Munroe explains it wouldn't be great for the batter, the crowd, or the neighboring city.

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

James is a published author with four pop-history and science books to his name. He specializes in history, strange science, and anything out of the ordinary.

Senior Staff Writer

Edited by Laura Simmons
Laura Simmons - Editor and Staff Writer

Laura Simmons

Editor and Staff Writer

Laura is an editor and staff writer at IFLScience. She obtained her Master's in Experimental Neuroscience from Imperial College London.

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A baseball surrounded by sparks.

It would be pretty, but you would be dead.

Image credit: Ruslan Shevchenko/Shutterstock.com

A video from everyone's favorite engineer and cartoonist Randall Munroe has pondered what would happen if you were able to throw a baseball towards a batter at 90 percent of the speed of light.

The creator of the XKCD webcomic and author of several books pondering fun hypothetical questions ignored how it would be possible for you to throw a ball at near light speed (because you couldn't, you just aren't that hench) and leapt straight into the effects.

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Unfortunately, the scenario doesn't end well for the batter, the catcher, people watching in the stadium behind, or those in any nearby city.

"The ideas of aerodynamics don’t apply here. Normally, air would flow around anything moving through it," Munroe explains in the video, and What If? entry. "But the air molecules in front of this ball don’t have time to be jostled out of the way. The ball smacks into them so hard that the atoms in the air molecules actually fuse with the atoms in the ball’s surface. Each collision releases a burst of gamma rays and scattered particles."

The front of the ball gets ripped apart by fusion, but even these constant thermonuclear explosions wouldn't slow the ball down that much given how fast it was going. Before the batter has registered the ball leaving your hand, they get disintegrated, before houses nearby start getting leveled. 

We imagine it would be of small comfort at this point for the batter's widow to learn the rules state their remains are allowed to advance to first base.


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spaceSpace and Physics
  • tag
  • nuclear explosion,

  • questions,

  • light speed,

  • baseball,

  • xkcd

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