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Question: If you throw a cat off the worlds tallest building, would it still have legs to land on by the end?

Asked by imakorean to Darren, Krystal, Upulie on 24 Jun 2011.

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  • Photo: Upulie DivisekeraUpulie Divisekera answered on 24 Jun 2011:

    Hi imakorean,

    I know what you’re thinking here – cats jump from high places like rooves, and somehow they manage to always land on their feet. This is called the ‘cat righting reflex,’ it’s an innate ability of the cat to always reorient it self and land on its feet. Cats can do this because they have a very flexible backbone, no collarbone and strong hindlegs. Their bones are also very light and strong (humans have very dense bones) and it’s believed that the fur of cats also helps decrease what’s called their terminal velocity. When an object falls from a height,the effect of gravity causes the object (or cat, in this discussion) to accelerate. But the friction between the object and the air (called the drag force) also slows down the object. So a falling object has two forces acting on it, pulling it in opposite directions. When the two forces are equal in magnitude, then the object reaches terminal velocity.

    Now, cats can reach a terminal velocity of up to 100km/hour and survive, meaning that the force with which a cat hits the ground at that speed allows it to survive umharmed. And they can spread their limbs a bit to reduce the impact of the fall.

    But this doesn’t mean that you can throw a cat of any building of any height (you should’nt throw a cat off a building unless it’s on fire,really). If a building is too tall, then the terminal velocity the cat reaches might be so fast that the force of the cat hitting the ground will cause it injury and even death. It’s estimated that about 7 floors is the highest building a cat call fall from and survive (though the cat may still become injured). So you can imagine that the tallest buildings, like the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, would be way more than 7 stories high. Throwing a cat off it would kill it.

    You aren’t going to try this, right? ;)

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