How Dangerous is a Penny Dropped From a Skyscraper? (Truths Revealed)

Saad Iqbal | 🗓️Modified: June 4, 2024 | ⏳Read Time: 4 min | 👁Post Views: 7

Ever heard the story about a penny dropped from the Empire State Building being lethal? It’s a popular urban legend, but how true is it?

Let’s dive into the science behind this intriguing myth and see if it holds any water.

    The Penny Myth Explained

    Many people believe that a penny dropped from a skyscraper can kill someone on the ground. The story is so well-known that the ledges below the Empire State Building’s observation deck are littered with coins from curious visitors. But can a penny, weighing around 2.5 grams, really become a deadly projectile?

    The Science Behind Falling Objects

    A penny falling without air resistance from the Empire State Building (443 meters tall) would reach a speed of over 300 kilometers per hour, about half the speed of a bullet. However, air resistance plays a crucial role in slowing it down. The MythBusters tested this by shooting pennies at each other, concluding it stings but isn’t fatal.

    Real-Life Experiment

    In an ultimate test, Derek Muller from Veritasium teamed up with original MythBuster Adam Savage. They dropped pennies from a helicopter onto Derek. Despite the initial fear, the results were clear: while pennies can sting, they don’t cause serious injury or death.

    Why Aren’t Pennies More Dangerous?

    The reason is air resistance. When an object falls, it eventually reaches terminal velocity, where the force of gravity equals the force of air resistance, causing it to fall at a constant speed. For a penny, this speed is around 80 kilometers per hour, much too slow to be lethal.

    Terminal Velocity and Air Resistance

    To understand why pennies aren’t deadly, consider the classic experiment of dropping a hammer and a feather on the moon. In the moon’s near-vacuum, both hit the ground simultaneously because there’s no air resistance. On Earth, the feather reaches terminal velocity quickly due to air resistance, while the hammer continues to accelerate.

    Real-World Implications

    Heavier objects with smaller cross-sectional areas, like hailstones or baseballs, can reach much higher terminal velocities and cause significant damage. In contrast, lightweight objects like pennies don’t pose the same threat.

    The Penny vs. Pen Debate

    What about other objects? Some suggest that ballpoint pens could be more dangerous. Pens are heavier and more aerodynamic than pennies, potentially increasing their terminal velocity. However, tests showed that even pens dropped from great heights didn’t cause serious injury. The drag relative to their weight was still too high.

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    The Danger of Falling Objects

    While a penny won’t kill you, other falling objects can be deadly. Every year, hundreds of Americans die from falling objects like construction tools, rocks, and even icicles. The energy required to fracture a human skull is around 68 Joules, and objects like baseballs and large hailstones exceed this threshold.

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    Conclusion: Separating Myth from Reality

    So, a penny dropped from the Empire State Building won’t kill you. The myth is busted. While some objects can be lethal when falling, the humble penny is not one of them. Understanding the science behind terminal velocity and air resistance helps demystify this urban legend and highlights which falling objects truly pose a danger.

    Share this myth-busting article with your friends and followers on Facebook and Pinterest to keep them informed and safe from sensationalized stories!

    This article is based on an experiment conducted by Derek Muller and Adam Savage, as discussed in the Veritasium YouTube video.

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