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Whether the pitcher hits the stone, or the stone hits the pitcher, it is bad for the pitcher. — Sancho Panza in "The Man of La Mancha"

911impact Despite a knee-jerk mistrust of any official story and an often self-destructive inclination to question authority, at first I accepted without question our government’s explanation of the wreck of the Twin Towers. Eventually, however, my trust in physics aligned with my mistrust of politicians to cast doubt on the official story.

The 18th century mathematician, Sir Isaac Newton, explained much about the world. His ideas have been so thoroughly tested that we now call them “Newton’s Laws.” At sizes above the subatomic and at speeds below that of light, those laws offer immutable, easily applied rules for predicting and analyzing the physical world. Since I’m about to dip you lightly into the bubbling vat of high school physics, you’ll be pleased to know there are only three laws of motion. I’ll paraphrase a couple of them for you here.

Law One:  Moving stuff keeps moving until some force stops it.

Law Two tells the force depends on the mass of the stuff and how fast we want to stop it.

Law Three:  Every force creates an equal and opposite force.

The third is most important to us here. Sancho Panza summarized it nicely in his remark about the pitcher. The collision of a stone and a pitcher produces a force that acts equally but in opposite directions on the two colliding objects. Stones being tougher than pitchers tend to survive larger forces.

The laws are the same for all moving objects. Any high school physics student can calculate the forces that affect colliding stones and pitchers, bugs and windshields, or airliners and skyscrapers. All he needs to know is the weight of both items and their relative speed.

Of course, it’s skyscrapers and airplanes that interest us here. In my customary fashion, I will oversimplify the tragic, historic event for you using figures I found on the excellently researched website of Dr. Morgan Reynolds,

Dr. Reynolds tells us the Twin Towers weighed something like 500,000 tons and a Boeing 767 weighs around 140 tons. The weight of the plane was .028% of that of the building. There is no great precision necessary in numbers this large. A few hundred tons one way or the other won’t change the ratio much.

Equally important is that the plane was made of soft, light aluminum while the building was made of hard, heavy steel and concrete. The pitcher and the stone. For an example of just how fragile airplanes are, by the way, I recommend some of Dr. Reynolds’ photos of airplane damage caused by collisions with birds.

Skyscrapers and airliners are big objects to try to wrap your mind around. The scale is hard to grasp. To better understand the situation I had to reduce it to more familiar objects while maintaining comparable ratios of mass. 

By a lucky coincidence the ratio of the weight of a fully loaded Hummer and a six-pack of cold beer in aluminum cans is not unlike that of our plane and building example. There is also a happy similarity in their construction, aluminum v. steel. A frosty sixer of Bud tallboys is about .069% of the weight of a Hummer. The higher ratio gives us a margin of error. It’s as if the plane were over twice as heavy as it really was and allows us to use the entire six-pack, which I always recommend.

Imagine now, as unlikely as it may seem, that I suspend a perfectly good six-pack above a highway at the grille height of the Hummer. Let’s even imagine that the cans are filled with jet fuel instead of beer. Let’s also put an Arab who has never driven before in the Hummer bearing down on the six-pack at 500 miles an hour. (Do not try this with your Hummer.)

If we believe the official explanation of the collapse of the World Trade Center, the following is what we would have to believe would happen next to our Hummer.

The Hummer hits the six-pack, which, according to Newton’s third law is exactly the same as the six-pack hitting the Hummer. The jet fuel ignites in a spectacular fireball which engulfs the Hummer and burns furiously but not long. The six-pack passes through the grille, the motor, the firewall, and the seats and shoots out through the back door. All traces of the six-pack vanish. No sign of aluminum is found anywhere on the grille or inside the Hummer. Nor are there any pieces of beer can on the road around the point of impact. Even the pull tabs are gone.

The Hummer careens forward in a billowing cloud of smoke for about another half hour then suddenly disintegrates into a pile of nuts, bolts and smoldering dust that you could hide under a beach umbrella. No piece of the wreckage is larger than a door knob.

Officials find the Arab’s undamaged driver’s license on top of the pile.

Do you think Newton would buy this story?