Start a new holiday tradition throwing ornaments! All about boomerangs, with recent expert Carolyn Sumners

December 5, 2012

Editor’s note: This blog is one of a series of travelogues by HMNS VP of Astronomy Carolyn Sumners, sent from the two-week solar eclipse viewing trip she led to Australia.

Australian Boomerangs

When in Australia, it’s important to master throwing a boomerang, or at least give it an honest try. Everyone on our eclipse tour group attempted a boomerang throw with some success, depending on the amount of spin and the angle of release. Here I am trying to master the technique with an expert teacher:

Lesson from Australia: The proper boomerang formIn case you find yourself with access to a real boomerang, here’s the secret to a successful throw:

1. The Spin
Hold the boomerang with the painted side toward you. When you release the boomerang, give it as much spin as possible. Hook your index finger around the tip. Holding the boomerang firmly, let it tilt back against your wrist. When releasing the boomerang, give it a quick throw — keeping your hand closed so the boomerang rolls around your index finger and is aimed slightly upward.

2. The Angle of Release
Face about 45 degrees to the right of any oncoming breeze (left if you are throwing left-handed with a left-handed boomerang). Lean the boomerang over about 30 degrees and throw at this angle. (Do not release the boomerang horizontally. Such a throw can damage the boomerang.)

For a real wooden two-bladed boomerang, you need a large open area for throwing. You will improve by increasing the spin of the boomerang and getting the best angle relative to the wind. Catch a returning boomerang by bringing your open hands together on either side of the spinning boomerang.

Real boomerangs come in various shapes with two, three, or four blades. Boomerangs are often used to knock birds out of trees and will not usually come back after impacting with another object.

Lesson from Australia: The proper boomerang formSpace-Saving Boomerangs

If you want a boomerang that returns in a very small space and cannot hurt anyone, use the attached pattern for a 4-bladed boomerang. Draw the boomerang pattern on card stock and cut it out. Curve the blades inward, shaping the boomerang as a plate or shallow bowl.

Lesson from Australia: The proper boomerang formHold the boomerang vertically with the tip of one blade between your index finger and thumb. Tilt the boomerang back until it touches your wrist. The inward curve of the blades should face the center of your body. In my photo (taken in New Zealand, where we finally practiced our boomerang throwing), you can see the proper position for a left-handed thrower. The right-handed throw is the same, with the boomerang blades still curving inward.
Lesson from Australia: The proper boomerang formFlip the boomerang straightforward with as much vertical spin as you can. When thrown with enough spin, this boomerang will always turn from vertical to horizontal and come back to you. Usually this will happen within 10 feet of you.

This boomerang can also be decorated and hung on a tree for the holidays!

Boomerangs in Outer Space

Being the astronomers that we are, we wondered if this boomerang would come back in outer space. We discovered that our reliable 4-bladed lightweight boomerang did depend on gravity to turn it from vertical to horizontal. This boomerang did not return on the International Space Station. However, a 3-bladed boomerang made of heavier material with tilted blades did return in the ISS. Watch this video to see space boomerangs in action. (Note: you must scroll to the second page of the link to find the boomerang video.)

Make boomerangs for the whole family and start a new holiday tradition from down under.

Carolyn S
Authored By Carolyn S Sumners

Carolyn is VP of astronomy for the Museum; she develops Planetarium shows for the Museum that tour all over the world, developed the very first Challenger Learning Center and runs the Museum’s George Observatory in Brazos Bend State Park. In her spare time, she does research in the field of archaeoastronomy, which attempts to replicate the night sky at critical moments in history.

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