Tag Archives: kicking

How astrophysics applies to field goals

It isn’t often an astrophysicist is given the floor at Pro Football Daly, but I thought you might be interested in something Neil deGrasse Tyson says in the May issue of Esquire.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, honorary Vulcan.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, honorary Vulcan.

Why? Because in an interview with Scott Raab, Tyson goes off on a fascinating tangent about, of all things, field goal kicking. Their chat begins with Raab marveling at the famed Science Explainer’s gift for “spreading knowledge,” despite America’s anti-intellectual bent. That leads to this exchange:

Tyson: I don’t think of what I do as spreading knowledge. The phrase “You’re lecturing me” is never a compliment. So I realized that’s not what I should be doing if I have any interest in compelling people to become scientifically literate.

Raab: What’s your secret?

Tyson: I’ve found that no one complains about pop culture being a source of someone lecturing to them. If someone’s telling you about Kim Kardashian, you’re not going to accuse them of lecturing to you. If I can explore an intersection between pop culture and science literacy, then it generally will not come across as a lecture. You’re surfing a wave already created by pop-culture force. During the Super Bowl, one of my tweets was, “A 50-yard field goal, in the University of Phoenix Stadium, deflects about one-third inch to the right due to the earth’s rotation.” Now, we’ve all seen field goals that just hit the post and bounce out, so the rotation of the earth prevented a [field] goal! Everyone is interested in the Super Bowl and long field goals, and I judged that there would be deep curiosity in the fact that the rotation of the earth could affect the outcome of a game.

Raab: A third of an inch? That seems like a dramatic effect, actually.

Tyson: There are other stadiums where it would be half an inch. It depends on the angle of the stadium relative to the longitude.

It would make a great trivia question at a Super Bowl party, wouldn’t it?

Who has blocked the most field goals in NFL history?

Answer: The rotation of the earth.

Fortunately for the Seahawks' Steven Hauschka, this 27-yard field goal try in Super Bowl 49 wasn't affected much by the earth's rotation.

This 27-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka in the Super Bowl wasn’t affected much by the earth’s rotation.