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It's always bothered me that the O'Neill space wheel puts forth centrifugal force as a suitable replacement for gravity. However, it seems the effects of conservation of angular momentum would induce effects quite different than gravity. Most notably, if I'm standing facing (or opposing) the direction of spin, I would experience an inertial force against falling or leaning sideways - but perhaps not forward or backward. It seems this force could be quite disorienting if movements in some direction encounter greater inertial resistance than movements in other directions. Furthermore, it seems bowling might be quite impossible as pins would similarly be difficult to knock over in one direction - but not another.

Am I misunderstanding or overstating the effects one might experience here?

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  • $\begingroup$ "...I would experience an inertial force against falling or leaning sideways" could you elaborate on why this would be the case? I can't see any reason that anything beyond Coriolis forces should be experienced, but perhaps this is one of its manifestations. $\endgroup$ – jacob1729 May 21 at 19:17
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Here is a situation where rotational effect would be quite strong: a fast elevator.

When the elevator is ascending the force from the elevator floor exerted on your body is decreasing your distance to the central axis. For a given angular velocity of the space wheel the smaller your distance to the central axis the smaller your angular momentum. That means that during ascend a sideways force is required to reduce your angular momentum. (And of course conversely during descend a force that appropriately increases your angular momentum.)

So, let's say you are an engineer, tasked with designing fast elevators for the O'Neill space wheel. You must then add warning/instruction signs for the elevator passengers: when you enter the elevator cabin you must position yourself against the left or the right wall, depending on whether you will ascend or descend. If your are not snug against the wall then when the fast elevator gets up to speed you will be slammed into it.

(I like to think that in a TV-show such as 'The Orville' this could be used as a running gag. An O'Neill space wheel, with fast elevators, and no warning signs. Everytime crew members board an elevator they try to remember which wall they have to lean against, and the're guessing wrong every single time.)

I don't think bowling will be much affected, as all of the surface is level with respect to the central axis

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, this has helped me realize my understanding of the principles at play was flawed. $\endgroup$ – SentientCedar May 22 at 20:35

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