Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Paper defies gravity

Paper standing on edgeI dropped a small sheet of paper and watched, helplessly, as it fluttered to the ground. I wanted to know where it landed because it was important and I could easily have lost it under nearby furniture. What I saw next was the most astonishing thing I've seen in years! The piece of paper not only landed on its edge but then stayed there, fully upright and motionless, for all of a second before it fell on its side. I tried to reproduce the feat again and again with the same bit of paper at the same location. I couldn't even get the paper to land on its edge, far less remain upright defying gravity. The incident reminded me of the sort of apparently physics-defying events I've read about in poltergeist cases.

The photo (right) shows an identical sheet of paper standing on its edge, just like the one described above. Having failed to get a sheet to stand upright on its own, the photo had to be digitally manipulated to remove the support used!

So how could this bizarre event possibly happen, if not by paranormal influence? If a piece of paper is dropped, it flutters to the ground travelling from side to side, as well as downwards. I found this article on the subject of falling flat objects. It is clear that falling paper does odd things, like actually rising for part of the time during its descent.

Falling paper points in all sorts of different directions as it falls, including vertically upwards sometimes. So there is a tiny chance it can land on its edge. In fact, the odds against this happening by chance are probably not that huge. If you drop a piece of paper enough times, it WILL land on its edge eventually. But the real puzzle is how it can it remain upright, even for a second?

A piece of paper standing on its edge is in unstable equilibrium. The slightest force on either side of the paper and it will topple over. Although this incident happened indoors, where wind would not be a factor, there are always slight convective currents of air present everywhere. These are always likely to be strong enough to push the paper over. So how could the paper that fell stay upright for a whole second?

It could happen if the air currents on the two sides of the sheet happened, for a time, to be of equal force and opposite direction. This might happen if the currents caused by the paper falling combined with ambient convection currents so that they cancelled each other out across the paper. The odds against this happening by chance are probably quite high. However, without knowing what the air currents look like for a falling sheet of paper, it's difficult to say. It might be that, due to way the paper descends, if it happens to land on its edge, the air currents might often tend to be just right to support it for a second or two. The most difficult bit might actually be getting the paper to land on its edge.

Given that nothing even remotely paranormal has ever been experienced in the location where this incident happened, a natural explanation, like that suggested here, seems the most likely possibility.


  1. I wish there was a way to post a photo. That just happened. I dropped a piece of paper that's roughly two and half inches wide and about 8 inches long. It fluttered under a table and out the other side about three feet away from me and stopped on its edge and stayed there for almost half an hour.

  2. That's impressive! I wonder if it is being held upright by static electricity?