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Whips and Dinosaur Tails

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Author:Ivars Peterson (MathTrek)
Description: The loud crack of a deftly flicked bullwhip is a small sonic boom, generated when the whip’s thin, highly flexible tip exceeds the speed of sound. Sauropod dinosaurs of the family Diplodocidae have enormous tails that gradually narrow to thin, delicate tips. Some paleontologists have speculated that, like bullwhips, such tails were meant to be noisemakers... a wave traveling from one vertebra to the next down such a tail could ultimately reach a speed of 1,300 miles per hour--fast enough to generate an enormous sonic boom. At an estimated 200 decibels, its loudness would rival that of a massive naval gun. And the sauropod could generate such a crack in less than a fifth of the energy that it required to take one step.

Levels: High School (9-12), College
Languages: English
Resource Types: Articles
Math Topics: Acoustics

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