What do a Dodgers outfielder and a Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist have in common? They both use “perceptual judgment mechanism needed to track a sphere as drag coefficient and Magnus forces induce non-symmetric parabolas” — of course.
“That’s geek speak for how a fly ball [travels],” said Don Yeoman, manager of NASA Near Earth Object Office at JPL.
Yeoman used the analogy of how a ball player calculates the speed and direction of a fly ball to how scientists determine the velocity and path of asteroids as they hurdle through space.
So when the chance came for Yeoman to make a video on the subject, Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp came to mind.
“The Dodgers organization has been great,” said D.C. Agle, public relations for JPL.
Agle said that when he contacted the Dodgers and explained what JPL wanted to do, the ball club was willing to help in any way.
Kemp and Yeoman met on Friday afternoon in the outfield at Dodger Stadium.
“We have to track these asteroids day after day, month after month,” Yeoman explained to Kemp. “But you take five seconds to [determine the trajectory] of the baseball.”
“Not even that long,” Kemp joked.
Kemp explained how ball players communicate with each other as the ball came toward them.
“You have teammates in the same way we have astronomers,” Yeoman said.
He equated the way team players constantly communicate with each other as they track the fly ball with the way astronomers from across the world communicate about an asteroid.
At the end of the filming, Yeoman asked Kemp to sign his baseball. Kemp joked, “Only if you sign my meteor.”
Kemp said that he was happy to help Yeoman with his video project and added that equating sports to science would help many kids understand what can be a complicated subject.
“I think it will get more kids interested in space,” Kemp said. “[Something like this] would have got me interested. Who knows? Maybe I would have been an astronaut.”
Yeoman said that there are times when NASA will release information about an asteroid and its path, then adjust that data. The public may think that NASA was wrong but in fact scientists adjust their information as more data comes in.
“Like a ball player adjusts his position to catch a fly ball,” he said. “What we do is complex. The whole point of this video is to get more information across to people.”
Until the late 1990s NASA wasn’t actively looking for asteroids. He added there were no asteroids that posed a threat to the planet.
“There is nothing that is a real worry, but we have only discovered a small portion of [asteroids],” he said.