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Parachutes: How it works

How it works

‘Parachute’ is a French word meaning “protection against a fall'. The parachute slows the way an object falls. It does this by using air resistance. You can feel air resistance. Take a large piece of cardboard in both hands and wave it up and down. Now just wave your hands up and down the same way. The cardboard had to move much more air than just your hands as they waived up and down. Air resists objects moving through it. The bigger the object, the more resistance. A parachute, fully open, moves much air aside as it falls. This air which must be pushed aside resists its fall. If the parachute remained in a small bundle and did not open, the small amount of air it moves aside as it falls would provide little resistance to the fall and the fall would be fast. You might think that the bigger the parachute, the better it would be, because it would displace more air as it fell. But there are two variables here, not just the size of the canopy. The second variable is the weight of the load. Think about ‘parachutes we see in nature. Some of the most common are the seeds of dandelions.

How it Work

How it Work

When a dandelion goes to seed it looks like a white fuzzy ball. Blow on that ball and hundreds of seeds are in the air.

The white part is the canopy. The brown seed at the bottom is the load. This parachute can stay in the air a very long time.