Possibly incorrect physics test question - Momentum

In summary, the conversation discusses the ability of cats to land on their feet while falling. The question is raised whether a cat without a tail would still be able to do so. The author explains that cats use a combination of body movements, including spinning their tail, to orient themselves for a proper landing. It is suggested that a cat without a tail would likely adapt and still be able to land on its feet. The conversation also includes additional information about the physics of cat righting and a possible project to build a robotic cat that can right itself when falling.
  • #1
stfz
35
0
I was completing a chapter on momentum in my physics textbook.
I took the test, in which I encountered the following question:

Would a cat without a tail be able to right itself while falling so that it always landed on its feet?

Earlier in the chapter the author explained that cats were able to land on their feet almost all the time due to the fact that they had tails. While falling upside down, the cat would spin its tail in direction opposite to the direction it wanted to spin. Due to the law of momentum conservation (its application is approximated here), the cat's body will begin to spin the other way. Given enough time, the cat will be right side up for landing.

My answer to the question was that the cat would still be able to land upright, provided that it was able to spin or turn another one of its appendages, such as a leg.

My (rather drawn out) rationale is that the cat only spins less than 180 degrees in order to land upright. I assume cats can move their legs almost 180 degrees about their body, so it should be possible for the cat to land upright.

However, the textbook states that a cat with no tail will not be able to right itself.

Is there any logical or scientific explanation, or is it a perhaps badly put , ambiguous question?
 
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  • #3
A falling cat in action, slow motion,
http://www.richannel.org/the-physics-of-a-falling-cat

You should notice that the tail does rotate in the opposite direction of the cat body spin, helping to orient the rear half of the cat as it falls, into the feet down position for a landing, although tail rotation seems to be neglected in this video and in other descriptions of falling cats.

I would presume though that a cat without a tail would learn quickly how to right itself correctly, due to the other aspects of how it does right itself, such as tuck and extension of its feet, flexible spine, and angled body.
 
  • #4
Too funny, especially the part about the Air Force experiments in zero g.
 
  • #5
256bits said:
I would presume though that a cat without a tail would learn quickly how to right itself correctly, due to the other aspects of how it does right itself, such as tuck and extension of its feet, flexible spine, and angled body.

Manx cats have no tails, and they land on their feet just fine.
 
  • #6
yeah, in reality, even if a cat loses it's tail, it can still land on it's feet. possibly the tail helps. But I would guess the two most important things are the incredible flexibility of the cat as it twists it's body to land on its feet (you can see this in slow-motion videos), and the other thing is the cat seems to have this 'behaviour' of landing on it's feet. (compared to other similar animals that are not so bothered how they land).
 
  • #7
stfz said:
My answer to the question was that the cat would still be able to land upright, provided that it was able to spin or turn another one of its appendages, such as a leg.
Right. But the quickest way is actually to spin (or rather swing) the entire rear body half around, and that's what cats mainly do. In fact it is so quick that human vision cannot follow it, so the only thing we notice is the tail swinging around. That's why the importance of the tail is often overemphasized. Here is an animation of this basic mechanism:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGusK69XVlk

A real cat flip is not that symmetrical though, because the cat wants to turn around the front half faster to see where it is going. So the cat will modify the inertial moments of the body halves, by extending and retracting the legs. And cats with a tail will additionally swing it relative to the rear half, but that is not crucial.
 
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  • #8
BruceW said:
...the incredible flexibility of the cat as it twists it's body...
A cat is flexible, but it doesn't "twist" it's body in the sense of a torsion. That would be painful even for a cat. And the cat would have to untwist itself after landing. What the cat actually does is just bending its body cyclically as shown in the video above at 0:43. The body halves are relatively swinging around, rather than relatively spinning around.
 
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  • #9
This would be a great project for the engineering to build a robotic cat that can right itself when falling!
 
  • #10
A.T. said:
A cat is flexible, but it doesn't "twist" it's body in the sense of a torsion. That would be painful even for a cat. And the cat would have to untwist itself after landing. What the cat actually does is just bending its body cyclically as shown in the video above at 0:43. The body halves are relatively swinging around, rather than relatively spinning around.
well, I think the cat only needs to twist its body so that it can move its head first, to see where the ground is. (which you mentioned before). This is not the bending motion required for the cat to turn itself around. But the cat still does the twist anyway, since it wants to know where the ground is :) Also, I think the cat untwists itself before landing. So really, the twisting motion doesn't help the cat turn it's body around, but it does let it move its head first to see the ground.
 
  • #11
BruceW said:
well, I think the cat only needs to twist its body so that it can move its head first, to see where the ground is. (which you mentioned before). This is not the bending motion required for the cat to turn itself around. But the cat still does the twist anyway, since it wants to know where the ground is :) Also, I think the cat untwists itself before landing. So really, the twisting motion doesn't help the cat turn it's body around, but it does let it move its head first to see the ground.
That's correct. There is some temporary torsion because of the front body priority. But the mechanism itself doesn't depend on torsion, which is crucial for an animal. A robotic cat on the other hand, could just have a 360° torsional joint, and rotate the body halves in opposite directions.
 

Related to Possibly incorrect physics test question - Momentum

1. What is momentum in physics?

Momentum is a fundamental concept in physics that refers to the quantity of motion of an object. It is a vector quantity, meaning it has both magnitude and direction, and is defined as the product of an object's mass and its velocity.

2. How is momentum calculated?

The momentum of an object can be calculated by multiplying its mass (m) by its velocity (v), using the formula p = m x v.

3. Is momentum conserved in all situations?

According to the law of conservation of momentum, the total momentum of a closed system is constant. This means that in the absence of external forces, the total momentum before an event or interaction will be equal to the total momentum after the event or interaction.

4. Can momentum be negative?

Yes, momentum can be negative if an object is moving in the opposite direction of its positive momentum. This can happen if the direction of motion is defined as positive in one direction, but the object is moving in the opposite direction.

5. What are some real-life examples of momentum?

Some common examples of momentum in everyday life include a moving car, a person throwing a ball, a roller coaster, and a swinging pendulum.

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