Science of the 2014 Super Bowl

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Feb. 2 2014 4:23 PM

SciperBowl 2014

I wonder when we'll get a Titans team actually from Titan.

Photo of Saturn by Gordan Urgakovic; football by Simanek.

Breaking with the usual stereotype for my kind (geeks, nerds, and dorks), I actually like watching football. For some reason, my wife and daughter became Broncos fans this past season (long before the first game started), so we’ve been watching the games every week. I think my wife spotting Wes Welker in Denver one afternoon may have spurred that interest along.

However, just because I’m shattering boundaries doesn’t mean I can’t mix my two passions. In 2012 I started tweeting science facts related to football during the game, and it was so much fun I did it again in 2013.


So I figure, why not carry on the tradition? If you follow me on Twitter you’ll catch the tweets live, but after every quarter I’ll update this post with the latest batch, right up to the end of the game.

So, let #SciperBowl2014 begin!

First Quarter

The term “bronco” refers to a wild horse, Equus ferus caballus. “Seahawk” usually refers to an osprey, Pandion haliaetus. #SciperBowl2014

On average, a horse outweighs an osprey by a factor of about 400. #SciperBowl2014 #NotBiased

Due to its elevation (5430 ft), in Denver the atmospheric pressure is about 18% less than at sea level. #SciperBowl2014

Kicking field goals is easier in Denver: Less air = less drag on the ball, so kicks go farther. #SciperBowl2014

This helped in 2014 when Bronco Matt Prater kicked the longest FG in NFL history: 64 yards. #SciperBowl2014

CO’s Trail Ridge Rd in the Rockies is the highest in the US, crossing 12,183 ft: It gets above 1/3 of the atmosphere. #SciperBowl2014

To be clear: Trail Ridge is the highest continuous road in the contiguous US. Twitter is limiting in detail. :) #SciperBowl2014

I filmed an interview there once, and carrying the heavy equipment was difficult. Even standing up made us pant. #SciperBowl2014

Second Quarter

Bill Nye once saved Seattle’s Space Needle from being stolen. Kinda. #SciperBowl2014 #AlmostLive

At 14,411 feet high, Mount Rainier, 87 km from Seattle, is the most prominent mountain in the contiguous US. #SciperBowl2014

A mountain’s “prominence” is essentially how much taller and distinct it is from mountains nearby. #SciperBowl2014

Mount Rainier is also one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. #SciperBowl2014

Not to play favorites, but Colorado’s highest peak, Mount Elbert, beats Rainier’s elevation by 29 feet. #SciperBowl2014


The ads for that Cosmos beer look pretty cool. #SciperBowl2014

One of the halftime performers is Bruno Mars. Hmmm, umm, any astronomy there… nope, I got nothing. #SciperBowl2014

Actually, the planet Mars rises just before midnight tonight: Halftime for the dark side of the Earth. #SciperBowl2014

If the Red Hot Chili Peppers were on Venus, the 860° F temperature would make them the Infrared Hot Chili Peppers. #SciperBowl2014

During the 30+ minute halftime show, the Sun converted over 9 billion tons of hydrogen into pure energy. #SciperBowl2014

Third Quarter

The heaviest player ever in the NFL weighed 448 pounds. But he’d be weightless in orbit. #SciperBowl2014

On the Moon, he’d be a mere 75 pounds. #SciperBowl2014

This is Super Bowl XLVIII. If it were held on the comet P/2001 OG108, it would be Super Bowl II. #SciperBowl2014

I’m a Peyton Manning fan, but he’s the host to about 6 pounds of bacteria in his body. #SciperBowl2014 #ewwwwww

When he gets sick, Manning (and you) can have 100 trillion viral bodies inside him. #SciperBowl2014

In his defense, Manning’s body also contains 150 pounds of oxygen, mostly in the form of water. #SciperBowl2014

Fourth Quarter

There are approximately 1 billion asteroids the size of a football field or larger in the main asteroid belt. #SciperBowl2014 [Note: When I originally tweeted that, I wrote "smaller", but there are way more than a billion asteroids smaller than that. I posted a corrected tweet later.]

The next few tweets assume no air resistance… #SciperBowl2014

To maximize the distance of a thrown football, the quarterback should release it at a 45° angle to the ground. #SciperBowl2014

Given the same force, a football thrown at a 60° angle will travel just as far as one thrown at a 30° angle. #SciperBowl2014

However, the ball thrown at 60° will have a maximum height in its arc 3x that of a ball thrown at 30°. #SciperBowl2014

The driving distance from Seattle to Denver is 2145 km. There are 16 bodies in the solar system bigger than that. #SciperBowl2014

Those objects include 7 moons, 8 planets, and one star. Pluto doesn’t make the cut. #SciperBowl2014

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  



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