Do you know what soccer, football, baseball, basketball, tennis, and golf all have in common? They all feature a ball as a primary part of play. And another key part of game play in each of these sports is exactly how the ball bounces.
Even if you're not into sports, you've probably played with bouncy balls from time to time. But have you ever given much thought to how the ball bounces or why it bounces? Let's take a closer look at what happens when the rubber meets the road.
To start, let's think about a tennis ball. Why does it bounce? When you drop it or throw it toward the ground, why doesn't it just stay there? Why does it bounce back in the air?
Like many other types of balls, tennis balls have a hollow center filled with air. Like all gases, the air inside a ball moves around easily to fill the space it occupies. Being loosely organized, the molecules of gas can move closer together or farther apart, causing the gas to expand or contract quite easily.
When a tennis ball hits the ground, the ground exerts a force on the ball, pressing upward and pushing the bottom of the ball inward. This force compresses the gas inside the ball, pushing the molecules closer together. Immediately, the gas molecules move farther apart again, returning the ball to its normal shape. This action is a bit like a spring that causes the ball to bounce back into the air.
How high a particular tennis ball will bounce depends upon the pressure of the air inside the ball. Scientists use a special equation to determine the amount of pressure: p=rRT, where “p" is the pressure, “r" is the density, “R" is a constant specific to the gas, and “T" is temperature.
Since we're interested in temperature, we will assume that the density and the constant remain unchanged. Looking only at the temperature part of the equation, it's easy to see that a higher temperature will lead to a higher pressure. This is because the gas molecules inside the ball move farther apart as temperature increases.
Likewise, a lower temperature will lead to a lower pressure. As the temperature decreases, gas molecules move closer together. This causes them to move around more slowly with less energy. Thus, lower pressure leads to a lower bounce of the ball.
That's why a fully-inflated ball might appear deflated if the temperature drops dramatically. As you probably already know, that partially-deflated ball won't bounce nearly as high as it would if it were warmer.
Professional athletes and sports teams take temperature into consideration when playing games. They understand that balls act differently in colder weather than they do in warmer weather. For example, football teams playing in extremely cold weather often have to compensate for the fact that footballs will bounce differently, especially when kicked.