This is what happens when you give NASA engineers a World Cup soccer ball.
A group of engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center placed this year’s official ball in a 2-by-2 wind tunnel to test the airflow around it, highlighted by lasers and smoke.
What did they learn?
It seems the Brazuca, as this World Cup’s ball is known, might be an improvement over the 2010 ball — the much-maligned Jabulani used in South Africa. That ball was sometimes said to make “supernatural” movements that frustrated players.
Good news for this year’s players: The NASA engineers have determined that the Brazuca will take a much more predictable flight path because of its design. That design includes six panels, instead of eight panels like the Jabulani or 32 like a traditional ball. The Brazuca also has deeper seams than the Jabulani and tiny bumps on its panels — all of which play into the aerodynamics of the ball.
“The players should be happier with the new ball,” said Dr. Rabi Metha, according to the NASA website. “It is more stable in flight and will handle more like a traditional 32-panel ball.”
For the record, NASA is “not in the business of designing or testing balls,” however, in the interest of teaching the “fundamentals of aerodynamics,” the agency could not pass up the opportunity to test the Brazuca.