How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 51

Why doesn't an egg break when it falls into a pile of feathers? Isn't the pile of feathers exerting the same force on it (perhaps 1000 newtons) that a table would if it were to hit that table?
The egg doesn't break because the feathers exert a much smaller force on the egg than the table would. The feathers can move so when the egg first hits them, the feathers don't have to stop the egg so quickly. To keep the egg from penetrating into the table, the table has to stop the egg's descent in about a thousandth of a second. That required a huge upward force on the egg of perhaps 1000 N. This large upward force, exerted on one small point of the egg, breaks the egg. But when the egg hits the feathers, the feathers can stop the egg's descent leisurely in about a tenth of a second. They only have to push upward on the egg with a smaller force of perhaps 10 N. This modest force, exerted on many points of the egg, shouldn't break the egg. During this tenth of a second, the feathers and the egg will both move downward and the egg will come to a stop well below the place at which it first touched the feathers.

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