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Does temperature affect the bounce of a ball?Will a ball bounce higher in hot or cold weather?What sports are affected by changes in temperature?

Do you know what soccer, football, baseball, basketball, tennis, and golf all have in common? They all feature a ball as a primary part of play. And another key part of game play in each of these sports is exactly how the ball bounces.

Even if you"re not into sports, you"ve probably played with bouncy balls from time to time. But have you ever given much thought to how the ball bounces or why it bounces? Let"s take a closer look at what happens when the rubber meets the road.

To start, let"s think about a tennis ball. Why does it bounce? When you drop it or throw it toward the ground, why doesn"t it just stay there? Why does it bounce back in the air?

Like many other types of balls, tennis balls have a hollow center filled with air. Like all gases, the air inside a ball moves around easily to fill the space it occupies. Being loosely organized, the molecules of gas can move closer together or farther apart, causing the gas to expand or contract quite easily.

When a tennis ball hits the ground, the ground exerts a force on the ball, pressing upward and pushing the bottom of the ball inward. This force compresses the gas inside the ball. Immediately, the gas begins to expand again, returning the ball to its normal shape. This action is a bit like a spring that causes the ball to bounce back into the air.

How high a particular tennis ball will bounce depends upon the pressure of the air inside the ball. Scientists use a special equation to determine the amount of pressure: p=rRT, where “p" is the pressure, “r" is the density, “R" is a constant specific to the gas, and “T" is temperature.

Since we"re interested in temperature, we will assume that the density and the constant remain unchanged. Looking only at the temperature part of the equation, it"s easy to see that a higher temperature will lead to a higher pressure. This is because the gas molecules inside the ball expand as temperature increases.

As the gas molecules expand, their energy increases and they bounce around faster inside the ball. That"s why higher pressure leads to a higher bounce of the ball.

Likewise, a lower temperature will lead to a lower pressure. As the temperature decreases, gas molecules contract and move around more slowly with less energy. Thus, lower pressure leads to a lower bounce of the ball.

That"s why a fully-inflated ball might appear deflated if the temperature drops dramatically. As you probably already know, that partially-deflated ball won"t bounce nearly as high as it would if it were warmer.

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Professional athletes and sports teams take temperature into consideration when playing games. They understand that balls act differently in colder weather than they do in warmer weather. For example, football teams playing in extremely cold weather often have to compensate for the fact that footballs will bounce differently, especially when kicked.


Try It Out

Grab a few of your favorite balls — and a few of your favorite friends or family members — and check out one or more of the following fun activities:

Conduct your own bouncing ball experiment at home! Find eight tennis balls to use for your experiment. Put two tennis balls in the freezer, two in the refrigerator, two on the kitchen counter, and two outside in the sun. Leave them in those spots for several hours. When you"re ready, drop all of the balls from the same height, such as from a table top. Measure and record how high each ball bounces. If your experiment goes well, the balls that were in the sun should bounce the highest, while the balls in the freezer should have the least amount of bounce.If you"re up for a challenge, try your experiment with other types of balls, such as rubber bouncy balls, soccer balls, baseballs, or soccer balls. Based upon the amount of air in each ball, how does temperature affect their bounce? Formulate a hypothesis for each ball and then test it, using the method described in the activity above. What do you learn? Was your hypothesis correct? Why or why not? Share your results with a friend or family member. Why do they think you got the results you did?