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The Mystery of the Merchant Ball

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ToxicAdam

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Dec 30, 2004
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This monument is about 30 minutes from where I live. I never heard about it until a few years ago when I was reading some books on Ohio history.

History:

In 1896 the Merchant family of Marion erected what they thought would be a beautiful and fitting grave monument for their plot in the Marion Cemetery. Within two years after its erection, someone noticed that the 5200 pound polished granite ball atop the Merchant pedestal had begun to rotate. The only unpolished spot on the ball was now visible indicating the ball was on the move.

The Merchant family being concerned about this, brought the erection crew back to the site to re-set the ball. They had the unpolished spot placed down on the pillar again, but this time had a tar bead placed around the bottom to serve as a base. It was not long before the ball again began its now continuous movement.

Many scientists of the early 20th century set out to find it's cause. They surmise that it moves about 2 inches every year, but never in a predictable pattern.

There have been many speculations, but there is no scientific explanation for this to happen. In 1929 it was featured in 'Ripley's Believe It or Not' famous newspaper cartoons and the monument soon gained international recognition


There are no scratches or grooves on this ball. So, it is rotating with no friction against the pedestal it sits upon. Which gave one person an idea on how it happens:

During three seasons of the year (autumn, winter, and spring) when it rains or snows and the temperature drops below freezing, any water that is collected under the ball on the unpolished surface of the base freezes and thus expands and raises the ball. When the ice thaws, which is usually on the side facing the sun, it causes the ball to tilt or roll slightly in that direction. When repeated many times, this phenomenon gradually moves the ball (about 0.0054 inches [.0137 cm] per day). You can appreciate the power of contraction and expansion by considering how this phenomenon has changed the surface of the Earth and flattened high mountains over a long period of time.
But what about in the summer time when the weather is around 80-90F (27-32C)? There is no documented report of measuring the movement of the ball only during the warm seasons, so we do not know if the ball moves in the summertime. However, even if it was found that the ball also moves during the summer, there is an explanation for the cause. In the summer the side of the ball which is exposed to the sun expands a little bit more than the other side, thus the center of gravity of the ball advances a little bit, giving rise to a slight creeping. In other words, the circumference of the ball is lengthening on the side that is exposed to the sun resulting in a pulling stress between the ball and the base on which it rests. This causes the ball to move a fraction of a millimeter
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AVclub

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Jan 6, 2007
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inertia

The ball is not moving because one side of it gets exposed to sun. That's bullshit. The sun moves across the sky every day and appears at slightly different points in the sky each day. So different parts of that giant hunk of marble would be heated.

This is Ohio we're talking about, right? Maybe bedbugs are moving it?
 

KHarvey16

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Apr 24, 2008
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AVclub said:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inertia

The ball is not moving because one side of it gets exposed to sun. That's bullshit. The sun moves across the sky every day and appears at slightly different points in the sky each day. So different parts of that giant hunk of marble would be heated.

This is Ohio we're talking about, right? Maybe bedbugs are moving it?
What about inertia? Also it doesn't have to move in the same direction, and this is like tiny amounts each year.
 
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AVclub said:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inertia

The ball is not moving because one side of it gets exposed to sun. That's bullshit. The sun moves across the sky every day and appears at slightly different points in the sky each day. So different parts of that giant hunk of marble would be heated.

This is Ohio we're talking about, right? Maybe bedbugs are moving it?
The ball rotates because water gets underneath it, freezes (and expands). When the sun rises, the ice melts, but it melts first on the side the sun hits it, so it moves just slightly each morning. Since the weather on any given day is unpredictable at best, this means that each day's movement is slightly different.

What does inertia have to do with anything (unless you're implying that gyroscopic motion is somehow at play here)?

Funnily enough, the given explanation was the first thing I thought of when reading the article.
 
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