Super(bowl) science!

By Phil Plait | February 6, 2011 4:02 pm

Well, it’s Super Bowl Sunday, and while I bet a lot of folks who read this blog are fans, I’m guessing a lot aren’t.

So I figured hey, why not take this chance to insert a little geekery into this normally overly-macho event? Something for the non-American-football-enthusiasts out there? So I pulled out my trusty HP 41CX calculator, grabbed a pencil and paper, and worked out some math and physics trivia based on the game. Over the next few hours I posted these facts on Twitter one by one, enjoying the comments I got on them. They’ve all been tweeted now, and I thought it might be helpful to post them all in one place for your nerdish enjoyment.

So here are your #AstroSuperBowl facts!

[Note: Regular readers know I usually use metric, but since the game is an American one, I used Imperial units. Also, 140 characters means being brief, so I left off the metric units.]

Are you ready for some football… SCIENCE?

  • On Jupiter, Pittsburgh Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger would weigh 610 pounds. [Assuming he weighs 241 pounds, and the surface gravity at Jupiter’s cloud tops is about 2.5 times the Earth’s… and he doesn’t immediately plunge through the atmosphere and burn up as a meteor.]
  • On the other hand his opponent, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, would weigh 557 pounds.
  • But then, on a neutron star Pittsburgh QB Roethlisberger would weigh 12 billion tons.
  • Spinning a thrown football makes it act like a gyroscope, keeping it stable in flight.
  • The GB Packers may like it cold, but with temperatures of -300 F, Saturn’s moon Enceladus scoffs at them.
  • Commercial breaks during the Super Bowl would seem much shorter if you were near a black hole. [Assuming you were near a black hole and receiving a broadcast from Earth; this detail was too long to put in tweet form.]
  • Superbowls would be 248 Earth years apart on Pluto.
  • An asteroid impactor the size of the football stadium would explode like 100s of 1-megaton bombs.
  • And assuming the game lasts 4 hours…

  • … during the game, a beam of light would travel about 2.7 billion miles: the distance to Neptune.
  • … during the game, the Sun will emit enough energy to supply the US for 30 billion years.
  • … during the game, the Earth will have moved 270,000 miles around the Sun.

And there you have it. And in the spirit of the game’s competition, I’ll add that you may consider yourself a nerd, but it takes an übernerd to make the Super bowl nerdy.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Geekery, Humor, Science
MORE ABOUT: Super Bowl, trivia

Comments (38)

  1. Scott Davis
  2. Keith Bowden

    Can we move the super bowl to Pluto?

  3. Chris

    As someone who doesn’t care a bit about football, this is much more interesting.

    If I was trying to watch TV around a black hole, wouldn’t the TV radio signals be blueshifted so my rabbit ears couldn’t receive them?

  4. how about

    All hail the ubernerd!

  5. Jeff

    I wish I still had my 41CX. I do still have a 48SX, 48GX, and a 50G. I don’t count the TIs that I am forced to use at school.

  6. Sean H.

    Much more interesting than a home run or whatever.

  7. Elwood Herring

    If the Earth was the size of a football, Alpha Centauri on the same scale would still be half a million miles away.

  8. Bryan

    @7: Which diameter of the football are you using? Earth is (sadly) not football shaped. Also, could you give the distance measure to α Centauri in football fields? :)

  9. Assume a toss on the Earth goes 20 yards. If the same force were applied to the ball on the Moon, how far would it go? How about on Jupiter (go with Phil’s 2.5g cloud tops example)?

  10. Jeff:

    I wish I still had my 41CX. I do still have a 48SX, 48GX, and a 50G. I don’t count the TIs that I am forced to use at school.

    I still have my HP 41CX, as well as my TI-2500.

  11. TechyDad:

    Assume a toss on the Earth goes 20 yards. […] How about on Jupiter?

    That depends… Do you thrown it with or against the wind?

  12. Can we say, “No matter how close Pittsburgh gets to a black hole, Pittsburgh still sucks more!”

  13. Brian E

    “… during the game, the Sun will emit enough energy to supply the US for 30 billion years.”

    We really need that Dyson sphere, holy frak.

  14. Why on Earth use Imperial units for a game that is measured in US units?

  15. Stephen C.

    i appreciate the comments and the facts, but why can’t someone love science and sports?

  16. How much mass would Roethlisberger’s beard have at the event horizon of a Schwarzschild black hole? I say ‘infinite’.

  17. PeteC

    @Ken B (10)

    I’m not sure it makes that much difference. Jupiter’s winds are… phenomenal. Throwing a ball into a huricane or with it makes only a few milliseconds difference in its direction of travel. :)

  18. @Ken B,

    You could probably simplify it and assume a calm day. Of course, as PeteC points out, a calm day on Jupiter isn’t exactly calm. Ignoring wind effects, though, how much/less farther would a ball thrown with the same force travel on the Earth, Moon and Jupiter?

  19. With 105k people at the game, at an average rate of 20 cubic meters of air per hour, that is 2.1Million cubic meters of air per hour and for a 4 hour game, 8.4 million cubic meters of air. How much is that? Google says it would be equal to 2.21904524 × 1012 US gallon containers. That is approximately 35000 cubic meters per minute of fresh air needed to support the game. Since there were no reports of respiratory problems, it’s safe to assume that the stadium circulation is at least 50000 cubic meters per minute…. or 583+ cubic meters per second. And that dispersed along a 200 meter long stadium. It must have been windy in there. If only NASA could provide that to a moonbase?

    Anyone want to check my math on that?

  20. Well, given the theme, here is some scientific contribution to football from an economist:
    “It’s fourth down and what does the Bellman equation say?”
    According to this paper, the Packers might have done better than score a field goal in the last quarter.

  21. Levi in NY

    If the Superbowl were actually a football competition, it would be played with a sphere rather than a prolate spheroid, and the sphere’s parabolic arcs would be generated by the pedal structures of the player’s lower limbs.

    (Yes, I’m an American. I just like real football better than that silly rugby knock-off.)

  22. Daniel J. Andrews

    Superbowls would be 248 Earth years apart on Pluto.

    I could live with that. Let’s also move award ceremonies (e.g. Oscar night) to Pluto as well.

    Edit to add: And reality tv shows–show them once a week but make it a Pluto week.

  23. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Daniel J. Andrews : All that is seconded by me. :-)

    @8. Bryan : @7: Which diameter of the football [Rugby ball / Aussie Footy League / that other Amercian thingy oval type ball] are you using? Earth is (sadly) not football shaped.

    Earth may not be footy shaped but some stars are :

    like Achernar! :-)

    Thinking odd stars, news just in :

    In case anyone’s interested in observing. Fairly bright nebular variable (Z CMa) in Canis Majoris.

  24. Hate to be picky, (actually I love it),but. In your first item concerning Ben Roethlisberger and his weight. We (in the good old US of A) don’t use the Imperial system of weights and measures but U.S. Standard. If we did use the Imperial system we’d be dealing with so many STONE of weight and a 4th down and Whitworth inches.

  25. w_nightshade

    Don’t like football? Read The Galactic FootballLeague saga from Scott Sigler:

    It may change your mind – but if it doesn’t, you still get awesome sci-fi, cool aliens, space gangsters, and lots of violence. Check it out!

  26. Ronan

    Hi Phil,

    I love love love your blog, and I always enjoy reading all your articles but just one thing that I must point out! Sure, ones Weight changes in different gravitational fields, be it on the Moon, Jupiter or a Neutron Star, but Weight is measured in Newtons, not pounds/kilograms or any other unit of Mass. Please don’t say that I’m nitpicking!

  27. DrFlimmer

    I prefer the European style of football (which has the American idiom “soccer”), but maybe that’s because I am European.
    On Friday in Germany THE game of the season took place: Borussia Dortmund – FC Schalke 04. I still don’t get it why this game ended 0:0. Unbelievable!

  28. No football fan

    Brian E:
    ““… during the game, the Sun will emit enough energy to supply the US for 30 billion years.”

    We really need that Dyson sphere, holy frak.””

    ..I agree.

    Information like this, puts energy saving in a whole new perspective!

    ..If only we could tap directly into this energy flow, by other means than “old school” solar panels.

  29. Old Muley

    Hey! Having been a lifelong resident of Titletown USA, and having suffered through the lean years of the 1970’s and 1980’s, I am thoroughly enjoying the afterglow of the Packers victory. It may not be your cup-o-tea, but for the residents of Green Bay and Packer fans around the world, last night was very, very special.

    (Of course I wouldn’t mind if the half-time show could be sucked into a black hole…)

  30. Peter F

    Science! Bah…

    Can your precious Science explain the horrendous superbowl performance of the Black Eyed Peas? Is there a way to drop them onto the surface of a neutron star?

  31. JC

    I’m glad all the people snottily announcing how much they prefer “real” football showed up. I spent my entire weekend fretting over whether or not random strangers on the internet shared the same sport preferences as other random strangers on the internet.

    Seriously. I understand that you’re culturally advanced enough to not cheer for sweaty men playing a sport, but, rather, you cheer for other sweaty men playing a completely different sport. Good for you. You sound as pretentious as those annoying twits that find a way to announce “I don’t even own a TV!” every ten minutes or so.

  32. Quiet Desperation

    @the people who prefer *S*O*C*C*E*R*

    No one cares. Have a nice day.

    You sound as pretentious as those annoying twits that find a way to announce “I don’t even own a TV!” every ten minutes or so.

    This. The Onion did a great article along those lines.

    Can your precious Science explain the horrendous superbowl performance of the Black Eyed Peas?

    The smart folks switched over to the Kitty Half Time show for the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet. LOL! IT WUZ TEH AWESUM!

    Can someone diagram what Aguilera did to the National Anthem?

    Obligatory: Sports!? I thought this was an astronomy blog! Sheesh!

  33. Gary Ansorge

    24. Messier Tidy Upper

    Looks like Achernar has been hitting up MacDonalds.

    Gary 7

  34. Keith Bowden

    I only follow Quidditch…

  35. Weight is not measured in newtons in the US or Imperial system, what with newtons being Metric (or S.I., if you prefer). Phil said this column is written in the Imperial system, though he almost certainly meant the US system instead.

    In the English systems, the pound can be either a unit of force, a unit of mass, or both. If it is a unit of force, then the unit of mass can be (but need not be) the slug, a mass that accelerates at one ft/sec/sec under a force of one pound. If it is a unit of mass, then the unit of force can be (but need not be) the poundal, a force that accelerates a one-pound mass at one ft/sec/sec. If it is both a unit of force and a unit of mass, then the unit of acceleration is one gee.

  36. davem

    Peter F: “Can your precious Science explain the horrendous superbowl performance of the Black Eyed Peas?”
    Nope. Every performance of theirs sucks. Was there a difference?

    I watched the first quarter of the game, and the lead up. Jeez, what a load of flag waving and jingoism. (including Aguilera absolutely murdering the anthem – even this Brit could work that one out). I’m sure that there was some sort of sport going on in between the adverts and the endless commentary over 4 seconds of actual action. It all looked like a perfectly good game (rugby) ruined by the forward pass… :0)

  37. Everything is beautiful science, but … uhhh… what was the score at the end?


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar

Login to your Account

E-mail address:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »