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What would happen if a pitcher threw a baseball at the speed of light

Jul 11, 2012, 4:38 PM EDT

Light Speed

I have a six year-old son, so I get questions like this asked of me all the time. Thank goodness, then, that there are people like Randall Munroe of XKCD to answer it. Here’s what, among other things, would happen if a pitcher could throw a baseball at the speed of light:

These gamma rays and debris expand outward in a bubble centered on the pitcher’s mound. They start to tear apart the molecules in the air, ripping the electrons from the nuclei and turning the air in the stadium into an expanding bubble of incandescent plasma. The wall of this bubble approaches the batter at about the speed of light—only slightly ahead of the ball itself.

Which is why Greg Maddux chose to only hit the low 90s with his fastball back in the day.

  1. adk77 - Jul 11, 2012 at 4:40 PM

    Only Sheldon Cooper knows.

    • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Jul 11, 2012 at 6:12 PM

      Awful show.

      • nightman13 - Jul 12, 2012 at 10:16 AM

        It was way better when it was a niche show, but since it became popular it has declined.

  2. cur68 - Jul 11, 2012 at 4:44 PM

    His arm would come off, that’s what.

  3. El Bravo - Jul 11, 2012 at 4:44 PM

    What happens if you throw a baseball faster than the speed of light? Will Babe Ruth be able to hit it because it is literally thrown back in time?

    • paperlions - Jul 12, 2012 at 7:49 AM

      Theoretically, time is the only a unidirectional dimension. Even if time travel becomes possible, it would be a one way trip and would have to be forward in time.

      • El Bravo - Jul 12, 2012 at 2:39 PM

        Clearly, you have never taken acid. Time is not linear.

      • paperlions - Jul 12, 2012 at 2:41 PM

        If memory serves, time did not pass at the same rate of speed…but it always move forward, even if it was moving very very slowly at times.

      • El Bravo - Jul 12, 2012 at 2:49 PM

        hahahahah….fair enough.

    • stoutfiles - Jul 12, 2012 at 7:50 AM

      Moving faster than the speed of light may let you see the past, but you wouldn’t be able to affect it.

  4. heyblueyoustink - Jul 11, 2012 at 4:46 PM

    A wild pitch could be cataclysmic. Randy Johnson’s wild pitch behind Kruk would look like peanuts.

    • WhyDoIActuallyCare - Jul 11, 2012 at 4:56 PM

      Which leads to another question: how would the ball hitting a bird mid-flight affect the outcome?

    • heyblueyoustink - Jul 11, 2012 at 5:01 PM

      The bird comes back to life as our intellectual superior, bans eggs from feeding, installs full instant replay in all sports, abolishes the DH, and makes bacon our national meat….because it would be, making bacon our national meat is the intellectually superior move.

  5. deathmonkey41 - Jul 11, 2012 at 4:46 PM

    He’ll get pulled before congress and have to testify about what he was taking. Then they’d waste tax payer money by trying him at a later date for lying.

  6. Kevin S. - Jul 11, 2012 at 4:50 PM

    The best part of that was the interpretation of rule 6.08 at the end.

    And dude, turn in your nerd fandom card. Jumping to hyperspace involves (essentially) creating an artificial, temporary wormhole. The speed of light has nothing to do with it. You needed to rock out a picture of the Enterprise here. Preferably an old-school one with the rainbow prism trailing the nacelles.

    • umrguy42 - Jul 11, 2012 at 7:11 PM

      …Actually, (puts on Spock ears) the whole idea of the “warp” drive is to effectively change the universe immediately around the ship (creating a “subspace field”) such that the speed of light limit is not in effect.

  7. poseidonsfist - Jul 11, 2012 at 4:50 PM

    Actually, this analysis was on what would happen at 90% PERCENT of the speed of light. It might seem like a trivial detail, but there’s a HUGE physics difference in 90% and 100% of the speed of light.

    • obpedmypants - Jul 11, 2012 at 5:22 PM

      yeah. the 90% of the speed of light answer is a lot more interesting than “mass can travel at the speed of light”

  8. - Jul 11, 2012 at 5:01 PM

    Light speed is nice and all, but what about “Ludicrous Speed”?

  9. bigleagues - Jul 11, 2012 at 5:08 PM

    And why MLB quietly made Syd Finch disappear and pretended he was simply a creation of George Plimpton’s.

  10. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jul 11, 2012 at 5:19 PM

    Dusty Baker would have him do it several hundred times per week until the universe collapsed.

    • Daniel Lawson - Jul 13, 2012 at 9:06 PM

      destroy the universe like he destroyed Wood and Pryor?

  11. joeflaccosunibrow - Jul 11, 2012 at 5:27 PM

    The REAL answer for physics geeks like me would be that the ball would burn up immediately from the air kolecule friction.

    • Jeremy Fox - Jul 11, 2012 at 5:44 PM

      Um, that point (and more) is made in the linked post…

  12. number42is1 - Jul 11, 2012 at 5:48 PM

    bud doesn’t think we need pitchers to throw at the speed of light… attendance has never been better.

  13. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jul 11, 2012 at 5:56 PM

    If the ball is going too fast for the eye to see, and there is no replay in MLB, how would the umpire know if it was a ball or strike? I suppose Bob Davidson could just call it a balk and be done with the whole affair.

  14. birdsnblues - Jul 11, 2012 at 6:29 PM

    Do fish get thirsty?

  15. Jonny 5 - Jul 11, 2012 at 7:42 PM

    The poor catcher would be but a stain near the stains that were once the batter and umpire.

  16. lbehrendt - Jul 11, 2012 at 8:43 PM

    Under these circumstances, the catcher should call for a change-up.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jul 11, 2012 at 9:03 PM

      changeup = speed of sound?

  17. weaselpuppy - Jul 11, 2012 at 10:29 PM

    Delmon Young would swing at it.

  18. philliesblow - Jul 11, 2012 at 11:03 PM

    Doesn’t matter how fast it was thrown. If it has no movement, someone would eventually time it and knock the snot out of it. Just ask Joel Zumaya.

  19. micker716 - Jul 11, 2012 at 11:52 PM

    My head hurts reading the comments.

  20. joro0414 - Jul 12, 2012 at 8:18 AM

    Since the ball has mass, hitting light speed is impossible. Physics 101.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 12, 2012 at 8:35 AM

      The article is what would happen if a ball was thrown at 90% the speed of light. But thanks for the reading comprehension lesson.

  21. smallpapi - Jul 13, 2012 at 9:35 AM

    Didn’t Paul from Uni Watch already mentioned this story already.

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