Why the Earth’s Spin Doesn’t Make Flying West Faster

As the Earth rotates in space, it pulls us along with it at around 1000 miles per hour (though we can’t feel it) depending on where you are on the planet. It seems like that motion would work in our favor when flying against the direction of spin—when your final destination is literally heading toward you as you head toward it—but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. Despite what logic might suggest, it takes roughly the same time to fly from New York to Los Angeles as it does to fly from Los Angeles to New York.

The folks at MinutePhysics explain the science behind the (lack of) phenomena with their signature brevity in the video above. In short, at 30,000 feet up, a plane is still caught in the Earth’s rotation, not separate from it. The short video also explains how the spin of the Earth does have some impact on air travel as it pertains to wind, and how even when we're going west, we’re always going east. Trust us, it’ll make sense in a minute.

[h/t Kottke]

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Courtesy of Flightradar24.com
Aircraft Tracker Visualizes One of the Busiest Days Ever in Air Travel
Courtesy of Flightradar24.com
Courtesy of Flightradar24.com

The skies look a lot more crowded today than they did a century ago. At any given moment, there are 9700 airplanes traveling through the air on average. Saturday, June 30 was an especially busy day for air travelers: Flightradar24 recorded 202,157 flights, the most the flight-tracking app has ever documented in a single day.

Since 2006, people have used Flightradar24 to see visualizations of aircraft making trips around the world. Each tiny yellow plane depicted on their map uses data from airlines and airports, and users can click the icons to learn the route, model, speed, altitude, and departure and arrival time of each craft.

Another way to use the app is to take in all the visual information at once. The sped-up GIF below from Flightradar24 gives you an idea of just how densely-packed the skies were that day, with thousands of planes swarming to and from the planet's most populous areas.

Commercial flight data is more accessible to the public than many people realize. To build their real-time maps, Flightradar24 uses radar, ADS-B (the technology planes use to broadcast their location), and MLAT (a method used to calculate the position of planes by measuring the time it takes them to receive a signal). To get an even more detailed scoop on the status of an airplane, you can tune into the live feed of a specific airport's air traffic control channel.

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The Secret to a More Pleasant Flight? Urinals
iStock
iStock

Even if you can deal with the lack of legroom, privacy, and decent meal options on airplanes, your patience may start to wear thin when it comes time to pee. Being stuck waiting in long bathroom lines on planes may feel like one of life's unavoidable annoyances, but according to WIRED, there's a way to make the experience more tolerable. The secret involves urinals and a bit of math.

At last month's Crystal Cabin Awards, a competition that recognizes innovation in aircraft interiors, Zodiac Aerospace introduced the Durinal, a two-urinal plane bathroom that takes the place of one toilet. Replacing a bathroom that serves all passengers with one that's made for only half the population may seem like a quick way to make the long-line problem worse, but there's some logic behind the proposed solution.

As Wouter Rogiest, a mathematician at Ghent University in Belgium, tells WIRED, gender-neutral bathroom lines are shortest when men have the option to head straight for a urinal. That's because it's quicker to use a urinal than a stall, and when men opt for the urinal, it frees up stalls for women. When he drew up an equation looking at hypothetical bathroom wait times at a concert, he found that a ratio of 14 toilets to eight urinals produced the most desirable wait times: one minute, 27 seconds for women and slightly under a minute for men. On a commercial plane, this ratio would come out to one or two Durinals per six conventional bathrooms.

Rogiest's concert equation isn't a perfect stand-in for airplane scenarios, so a more specific study would be needed before airlines could consider installing urinals. Unfortunately, if bathrooms with urinals do show up on airplanes, you can expect the spaces to be just as tight as they are now.

[h/t WIRED]

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