Terminal Velocity of a Cat

You may have heard about this “news” story.  A cat named Lucky fell out of a window in his owner’s high rise apartment building, fell 26 stories down, landed on a balcony, and survived with minor injuries.  It seems that the cat reached terminal velocity, and instinctively relaxed, and thus was able to hit the ground with only minor injuries.  Which means that a cat can fall at terminal velocity and survive.  Which means that a cat can fall ANY DISTANCE and survive.  Like out of an airplane.  Crazy right?

I wrote my friend Beem to ask if I was missing something.  He is a theoretical physicist.  Here is his response:

Hey man,

After intense study, I’ve concluded that yes, a cat can fall from any distance and survive.  As far as I can tell, the claim is that cats assume a spread out position which decreases their terminal velocity to such a speed that they can survive the fall (possibly with major injuries).  The only obstacle is, of course, that if you drop the cat from a plane at cruising altitude, it would probably go unconscious from lack of oxygen, and so not have it’s landing gear ready.  Other than that, it sounds pretty plausible.

Hilarious side-note – if you google “terminal velocity for a cat”, you actually get a wealth of useful and informative resources.

I’m glad that my physics training is being put to good use.


Christopher Beem
Center for Theoretical Physics
Department of Physics
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720

I just thought we should all be aware of this fact.  Thanks Beem.

Published in: on June 11, 2009 at 10:58 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Blame it on my plain-spoken southwestern roots, but I’m a little suspicious of any research that bubbles up from that cesspool of liberal academic elitism, Berkeley–and I have about as much patience for “theoretical” physics as I do for “experimental” music. In the spirit of rigorous scientific methodology, I think it’s time for a field test. Think Eric would let us borrow Bella for a day or two?

    • No.

  2. […] Velocity of a Cat: Follow-up Previously, I posted a discussion I had with my physicist friend about the non-fatal terminal velocity of a cat.  We came to the conclusion that though a cat can fall any distance and survive, tossing a cat at […]

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