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Essential Guide to Defying Gravity

article-imageDefying gravity on the beach of Sydney in 1937 (via State Library of New South Wales)

Gravity got you down? Fight back! Gravity varies around the world, and you can actually weigh less in some places. Some locales feature high-tech equipment to let us fly or float. Some fool us into mistaking which way is up. Here is a this list of places where you can beat gravity using technology, trickery, and terrain.

 

TECHNOLOGY

Indoor Skydiving
Las Vegas, Nevada, United States and other tourist spots

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Indoor skydiving in Los Angeles (photograph by Boris Dzhingarov)

If you really want to tell gravity to shove off, the best way is to float on air. You can do just that in Sin City. Right on the Strip, you’ll find a room where you can don protective gear and float in mid-air — with the help of an engine from a DC-3. The propellor blows air up and you ride on the currents, protected from the blades by a cage. Similar indoor skydiving facilities exist in dozens of touristy places around the globe.

The Vomit Comet
The Atmosphere

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Astronauts in the “Vomit Comet” (1959) (via NASA

There are practical reasons for defying gravity, and one of those is to train astronauts. The idea is pretty simple: fly faster than gravity. A 727 flies parabolas in the air at speeds greater than terminal velocity, giving you the exact effect of zero gravity for a few minutes at a time. The movie Apollo 13 was filmed in the aptly-nicknamed “Vomit Comet.” The official name of the aircraft is “Reduced gravity aircraft.”

Jet Ski Jet Packs

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Jetlev in action (photograph by Robert Neff)

If you don’t mind strapping a very powerful water jet to your back, you can soar above the waves and perform aerobatics in the waters of Hawaii. A jet ski motor powers a powerful jet of water that keeps you in the air until you dive (or crash) back into the sea. Check out this video to see what it’s really like. If you really want to feel what it’s like to fly, this may be your best bet. You can also enjoy this activity in Singapore and likely other places as the idea catches on. 

 

EARTHLY ANOMALIES 

Hudson Bay
Canada

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Hudson Bay’s missing gravity (photograph via NASA)

Not satisfied with a cheap trick like floating? No problem. Hudson Bay in northern Canada has what you need. Though you can certainly float in this large body of water, you’ll truly weigh less as you bobbed along because there is less gravity there. Yes, you read that correctly. Hudson Bay has less gravity than most places on Earth. The reason is complex, involving the Earth’s crust rebounding after the end of the Ice Age. The Earth is slowing rising back up after being crushed by miles of ice above, and that upward force reduced the effect of gravity on you. In addition, magma beneath the surface is swirling in such a way that the mass of the area is reduced, and thus gravity is less.

The Dead Sea
Israel and Jordan

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Reading in the Dead Sea (photograph by Arian Zwegers)

Split down the middle by a treaty between Jordan and Israel, the Dead Sea’s shores are lined with spas and beaches. If you’re brave enough to take a dip in the waters, you’ll notice something very odd: it’s hard to stand up. With no outlet, water collects in the Dead Sea and evaporates, leaving whatever was dissolved behind. Over the centuries, salts and minerals have built up enough to create giant salt pillars beneath the surface. Enter the water, and these minerals make your body rise much higher than you expect. You float like an inflatable doll would in the ocean. Be careful though, as all those minerals sting your eyes and any place you’ve shaved recently. Another weird fact: the Dead Sea coughs up balls of asphalt from time to time, a material which was once used to coat Egyptian mummies.

The Equator

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The Equator in Colombia (photograph by David A. Acosta S.)

You weigh less on the Equator than at the poles. Why? Because the Earth is spinning at about 1,000 mph at the Equator, causing a slight bulge around the Earth’s middle. The same force that causes it also impacts you, as does the fact that you’re farther from the Earth’s center. You can weigh as much as a pound less on the Equator than at the North or South Pole. Need help spotting the Equator? There are markers around the planet’s circumference, including the Middle of the World in Ecuador and the Equator Monument in Indonesia.

 

ILLUSIONS

Gravity Hills

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Magnetic Hill in Australia (photograph by Roo72/Wikimedia)

Located all over the world are deceptive optical tricks known as “gravity hills,” “spook hills,” or “magnetic hills.” The illusion is that your car or even your bicycle seems to roll uphill. Visual cues in the area include slightly tilted signs or fence posts, and the fact that roads are “crowned,” meaning they’re higher in the middle than on the edges, giving the impression that up is down. What we think is a straight line is actually off-center. Though this is definitely not a gravitational anomaly, it can be fun to trick your senses into thinking it is. Visit Mooresville’s Gravity Hill in Indiana, Electric Brae Gravity Hill in Scotland, Spook Hill in Florida, the Uphill-Downhill Road of Ariccia in Italy, or your local “haunted” road. 

Mystery Spots

article-imageVintage photo from the now defunct Wisconsin Wonder Spot (via Wisconsin Historical Society)

Similar to gravity hills, “Mystery Spots” are tourist attractions that create elaborate optical illusions which allow you to imagine you’re defying the laws of gravity. Popular in the 1940s and 1950s as Americans took to the roads in search of adventures, and, despite their claims, they’re all playing tricks with tilted lines and disorientation. While many of these have now closed, there are still several you can visit, including California’s Confusion Hill and the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot, Michigan’s St. Ignace Mystery Spot, South Dakota’s Cosmos Mystery Area, and Oregon Vortex — Gold Hill, Oregon, United States

 

HONORABLE MENTION

Dogtown
Gloucester, Massachusetts, United States

article-imageSome of the many carved virtues (via Wikimedia)

For a completely different escape from gravity, there is Massachusetts’ Dogtown. Throughout the woods of this 18th century ghost town are large granite boulders inscribed with words of inspiration. The rocks were commissioned by the eccentric Roger Babson who dedicated himself to anti-gravity research after his son tragically died in a plane crash. The words are simple pieces of wisdom that Babson hoped to impart upon future generations along with his gift of anti-gravy, which has yet to come to fruition. While you may not weigh less here, the boulders serve as a testimony to his efforts, as does his Gravity Research Foundation which is still in existence. 

So whether you choose the achievement of technology, the comfort (or discomfort) of illusion, or the Earth’s own inconsistencies, you need not be a slave to gravity. Defy it! However, whatever you choose, know that what goes up must come down.