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What happens when you’re hit by a marshmallow moving at light speed

September 27, 2016

Matthew Wright

Last week I made a flippant comment on Facebook about the kinetic energy a marshmallow would have were it accelerated to lightspeed.

I knew it would be giganormous. Needless to say, being a bit of a geek, I then had to go and figure out exactly what it was.

newtons_cradle_animation_new By DemonDeLuxe (Dominique Toussaint) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1028855

First, though, a few words of explanation. Kinetic energy is the amount of energy that something moving possesses, because it is moving. When it hits something that isn’t moving, the energy is transferred to the at-rest object. A cute toy known as a Newton’s Cradle demonstrates this in action.

The ball hits the row of stationary balls; energy is transferred through the line and the one at the end bounces off. Because the balls are steel, it’s fairly efficient. If the cradle used marshmallows, a lot of the energy would…

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