What Would the Fallout of a Speed of Light Fastball Be?

What would it take for a thrown fastball to almost break the speed of light barrier? Not much luck and a whole lot of science.

Let’s say you’re spending a lovely afternoon at the ballpark watching your favorite team’s ace reliever obliterate opposition batters with his 100 mph fastball. As you take in the spectacle, you’re probably not focusing much on the absurd amount of backspin he’s put on the ball that in turn creates something called Magnus force.

This Magnus force creates a spin axis parallel to the field as the pitch fights off gravity on its way to the plate while a hapless batter attempts to make contact.

What if this pitcher were not just a MVP all-star, but superhuman as well? And somewhere in their bag of pitch tricks was hiding a secret weapon fastball that could almost crack the speed of light barrier? Those are just some of the factors considered by scientific theorist Randall Munroe at xkcd.com with his look at the scientific realities of this particular sporty scenario.

We know – you wouldn’t exactly be able to hide a speed of light pitch – heat like that gets noticed in any sport. For that matter, were you actually present for one being thrown you wouldn’t be seeing it, either. After all, it would be hurtling along at 671 million miles per hour (1080 kilometers an hour).

Technically, we can’t really say you’d be seeing much of anything since in a nanosecond this pitch would become a thermonuclear explosion that would instantaneously obliterate the individual throwing it. Science shows that pitch speed starts with leg strength, so you can assume that the last visual you might have before becoming stardust would be of a an uber-‘roided athlete with thighs the size of the Empire State Building warming up.

A good, ‘real’ fastball reaches home plate in 439 milliseconds, or about three blinks of an eye. In this hypothetical scenario, the ball would be within reach of the batter in only 70 nanoseconds, or 0.00000007 seconds. If the batter was brave enough to get him or herself into a pre-pitch bunt position, they’d be standing in front of a plasma bullet made of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen.

The ball itself would be non-existent, replaced by this superheated cloud. Needless to say, the batter and umpire would be, to put it bluntly, burnt toast. For the nanoseconds they were still standing there, at least. Along with the pitcher, they’d be nothing but particles.

Unfortunately for all parties involved, in less than one microsecond the entire stadium and surrounding craft brewery district (we’re making some assumptions on the businesses here) would be wiped off the face of the planet. As it stands right now, there’s not many slo-mo cameras out there that can capture the speed of light on camera, and we’re pretty sure ESPN isn’t the owner of one.

Story by Jay Moon