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No. 92: Mar-Apr 1994

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Chaos At The Amusement Park

Readers of Science Frontiers are well aware that some denizens of our solar system exhibit chaotic motion, as do some pendulums and even dripping faucets. Chaosists seem to be able to find chaos everywhere they look.

If you have ever ridden on that amusement park staple called the Tilt-A-Whirl, you will recall that the ride is fun because you never know exactly what the car you are riding in will do as the platforms move along the hilly circular track. Each car is free to rotate about its center and will also tilt in all possible directions as the cars go up and down the hills. Can one mathematically predict whether the car will spin clockwise, counterclockwise, or not at all? What a neat problem for a physicist!

And two physicists, R.L. Kautz and B.M. Huggard, have developed a mathematical model of the Tilt-A-Whirl. By integrating the equation of motion, they find that the Tilt-A-Whirl is, indeed, a chaotic system. You really cannot tell what the car is going to do -- even if you take your laptop along with you!

(Kautz, R.L., and Huggard, Bret M.; "Chaos at the Amusement Park: Dynamics of the Tilt-A-Whirl," American Journal of Physics, 62:59, 1994.)

From Science Frontiers #92, MAR-APR 1994. 1994-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987