Archives of Ask A Scientist!

About "Ask A Scientist!"

On September 17th, 1998 the Ithaca Journal ran its first "Ask A Scientist!" article in which Professor Neil Ashcroft , who was then the director of CCMR, answered the question "What is Jupiter made of?" Since then, we have received over 1,000 questions from students and adults from all over the world. Select questions are answered weekly and published in the Ithaca Journal and on our web site. "Ask A Scientist!" reaches more than 21,000 Central New York residents through the Ithaca Journal and countless others around the world throught the "Ask a Scientist!" web site.

Across disciplines and across the state, from Nobel Prize winning scientist David Lee to notable science education advocate Bill Nye, researchers and scientists have been called on to respond to these questions. For more than seven years, kids - and a few adults - have been submitting their queries to find out the answer to life's everyday questions.

Previous Week's Question Published: 27 May, 2004 Next Week's Question
Thin air sends baseballs flying
Why do baseballs fly farther in Coors Field in Colorado?

Quite simply the reason a baseball flies farther at Coors Field is because there are fewer things getting in the ball's way.

Imagine you are in a room packed full of people. If you try to go across the room you'll bump into people and that will slow you down. Now image the same room with a lot fewer people. If you try to go across the room now, it will be a lot easier because there are fewer people to bump into.

The same thing happens to a baseball as it's flying through the air. The baseball collides with air molecules. This causes friction, or "drag", which slows the baseball down. The fewer air molecules there are, the less drag there is, which means the ball goes faster and further.

Denver, Colo., where Coors Field is located, is known as the mile-high city because it is at an altitude of 1 mile (or 5,280ft) above sea level. This high elevation means that the air at Coors field is a lot thinner than the air at sea level. It's even a lot thinner than the air at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, Arizona, the second highest major league ballpark at an elevation of 1100 feet. There are a lot fewer air molecules in a cubic meter of air at Coors Field than at any other Major League stadium, especially one at sea level. Because there is so much less air in the way, a ball hit at Coors Field will go about 10% farther than a ball hit with the same force at sea level. This means a 400-foot hit into deep center at sea level would be a 440-foot homerun at Coors Field.

Another reason you might be seeing a lot of home runs at Coors Field is that the thin air affects the ball before it's even been hit. Curve balls won't curve as much, knuckle balls won't waver as much, and sliders won't drop as much. So the thin air can make it easier for the batter to hit some pitches. But don't feel too bad for the pitchers, the thin air will also make their fastballs go faster!