Worldbuilding Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for writers/artists using science, geography and culture to construct imaginary worlds and settings. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Using our world's physics, how could one explain the mechanics behind a witch on a broomstick? Not just the propelling part, but even the most basic fact - sitting on a broomstick - seems problematic: The center of gravity of human body is far above the broomstick, so within a second, a witch would just turn flying upside down (making landings very painful among other problems).

share|improve this question
    
With a bit of practice & balance I think sitting on the broomstick itself wouldn't be too difficult - after all, you can often see people sitting on railings... – colmde Jan 29 at 16:09
    
With railings you normally have something to put your feet against to balance with. Harry potter broomsticks have footrests and they lie down against the stick with their feet in the footrests. That makes it all seem much more reasonable. – Tim B Jan 29 at 16:25
    
Something I've always find confusing with flying things is, in which point of the object is the magic exerting its force? – Arturo Torres Sánchez Jan 29 at 17:55
1  
The "physics" involved are essentially neurochemistry and how the hallucinogenic substance smeared on the broom handle (FWIW I thought it was made from datura not cannabis) generate a sensation of flying in the brain. – R.. Jan 29 at 20:26
1  
I've placed a query on scifi.se about the Stanislaw Lem story. – NL_Derek Jan 29 at 23:08

Let's assume witches do exist and they are riding broomstick-like objects!


My answer could be decomposed into multiple points:

How would they mount the broomstick without hanging from the broomstick?

I think a well-behaved witch (if there are any) would never mount the broomstick like man, but like ladies of her time. In this case balancing on the stick could be learned (we all have set on climbing frame rods at young ages without falling).

An evil and promiscuous witch might ride a broomstick like man ride their horses, but I think a witch like that would be practical enough to apply a cross-rod or some sort of a saddle. I mean we only see witches from quite far, and their dress hides the fine details. A practical witch might also apply weighted boots or other counterweights to maintain upward position.

It is also worth mentioning, that medieval-time broomsticks were not manufactured, but handcrafted so they could be directly shaped for riding like in Harry Potter movies.

How could a broomstick-like object fly?

The most appealing explanation would be a rocket- or jet drive, which could - in theory - be built into the body of the broomstick, and exhaust gases could be released by shafts through the sorghum. The only problem with this explanation would be, that this way the broomstick would be propelled forward with an extremely high power, so it would be very fast, hard to control and very hard to hang on.

If I had to build something like that I would choose another approach:

I would use a flying machine of some sort (the "what sort" doesn't really matter in our point of view), and hide it with some sort of stealth tech. (Active camouflage of some sort for example) and fix the brooms ends to it. The witch would ride the broom and control the flying machine remotely .

share|improve this answer

Logically, witches are made of wood and weigh as much as a duck!

So there isn't much center of mass to deal with!

On a slightly more serious note, witches are already using magic to fly around on brooms in the sky. So it probably does't take much more magic to ensure they stay upright, especially after the first embarrassing landing, with their skirts over their head.

share|improve this answer
    
I might be mistaken, but I understood the first sentence of @petr-pudlák ("Using our world's physics, how could one explain the mechanics behind a witch on a broomstick?") as wanting for a handwave-free explanation in a Clarke's third law sence. So "it's magic" is not an acceptable enough for him. – mg30rg Jan 29 at 22:08

Handwaving propulsion and all else there would have to be ballast in the straw end of the broom, if it is to be ridden in the modern fashion: enter image description here

Traditionally witches ride them straw side forward like a hobby-horse. I am having a hard time finding a non-nude picture of a witch flying in this manner as nudity was also in style at the time.

enter image description here

The posture in the first picture seems the best way to ride a broom. By sitting on the straw and keeping the handle up lowers the center of gravity and prevents tipping over. Unfortunately, it is not very aerodynamic as your upright posture catches the wind. Go to fast and you get blown right off the things. You can always trade speed for stability by leaning forward with you head close to the handle knees bent feet close to the straw. but don't blame me when you barrel roll and lose your grip.

I think by controlling your posture carefully for the task at hand, you could ride a broom with some degree of realism.

share|improve this answer
5  
"A' course, I rode my broomstick in the nudd, as was the style at the time." – Whelkaholism Jan 29 at 16:23
1  
+1 for the (remarkably rare) historical knowledge. Broomsticks are symbolic horses, which is why they were traditionally shown as being ridden like a hobby-horse. However, introducing magic and symbolism does tend to diminish the applicability of the your other considerations. Not to mention defeating the premise of the OP (that physics matters in this case.) – WhatRoughBeast Jan 29 at 17:00
    
Plus one for William Butler Yeats. – King-Ink Jan 29 at 17:02
    
“as nudity was also in style at the time” What a time to be alive! – Martin Bean Jan 29 at 17:08
    
@MartinBean mostly it was just in style among witches and it was a great time to be alive .... I assume. – King-Ink Jan 29 at 17:09

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.