Fri October 30, 2009
Gravity Hill revisited
By Rebecca Feldhaus
Princeton, KY – A few weeks ago, Rebecca Feldhaus journeyed to Princeton's Gravity Hill. She came out unscathed, but the draw was too strong to stay away. With a little help from Jacque Day and physicist Art Pallone, she took a closer look.
Believers beware. A physicist is on the loose at Princteon's Gravity Hill. Upon the last visit to gravity hill, the myth seemed to come true. The car was off, and rolling up hill. Or was it?
Murray State University Physics and Astronomy professor, Art Pallone, took his own drive over to gravity hill.
"We've just turned onto Crider Dulaney Road. I can see the overpass just ahead of us."
Pallone is no spring chicken when it comes to paranormal instances. Hailing from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he knows a thing or two about seemingly supernatural occurrences.
"In Pennsylvania specifically, there is actually a double gravity hill located in Bedford County, about two hours drive from where I grew up. It boasts two of these hills along the same road within one half mile of each other."
Pallone received a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering before delving into the academic world of physics for his master's and doctoral degrees. Though gravity hill is a large change from his weak spot for experimental nuclear astro-physics, he was up for the challenge.
After a first look around the area, Pallone explains the optical illusion stems from the overpass. From the perspective of a passerby, the sides of the overpass look to be level, thus making the car seem as though it's going uphill.
"If you were to take a take measure from the road up to the ceiling of the underpass, and do it on the one side of the road, and do it on the other side of the road, you would see that they are not at the same height."
"The other issue is that the road itself that is passing overtop, the ceiling of the overpass is at an angle other than a right angle so not directly going across the road underneath. These two things combine with your sight and the way your brain processes information to make you think that your car is actually being pushed uphill, when it truly is obeying the laws of gravity and going downhill."
Finally the time came for testing. Armed only with a CD Jewel case and a string of beads, Pallone proved his McGyver-like resourcefulness to bore out the truth.
"A plumb-bob hangs pointing vertically down, towards the center of the earth, as any good carpenter will tell you, and I hung that plumb bob from a CD jewel case so I'd have both vertical and horizontal squared off references to look at this overpass in the road. Based on my observations with that plumb bob, and the angle at which the overpass crosses the road itself, Gravity Hill is an optical illusion as I originally suspected."
So what does Pallone believe. Did tingles shoot up his spine? Did the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end? Can a scientist still be superstitious?
"One would have to clarify the meaning of superstitious. Do you ever knock on wood? That is a throw back to the days when persons wanted to invoke the good favor of tree spirits. I have my faith and my science."
Though a scientist, Pallone says things are rarely black and white. Bumps in the night, eyes under the stairs and creeks down the hallway might send a chill down the spine might just be the family pet. Does it dilute the fun?
"Everybody's seen or heard something a little creepy, and you know, at that moment, felt something. That doesn't mean that it's not explainable. But it does make for an interesting story that you tell your kids, or your canines."
Another trip to gravity hill has come and gone, but will the pull of the tragic lure ever really end?