MacGyver Season 4 Episode 8 Science Notes: Father + Son + Father + Matriarch

Newton’s Third Law

It’s not a hack, but I wanted to go over this quote from MacGyver:

“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”

Clearly, he isn’t just talking about physics and stuff—so let me give a very brief explanation.

This originally comes from Issac Newton and his “three laws of motion”. What he (Newton) was trying to say was that forces come in pair—forces are an interaction between two objects. So, if object A pushes on object B with some force, then object B pushes on A with the same force but in the opposite direction. That’s what Newton meant to say—but it’s tough when no one has nailed down the operational definition of things like “force”.

However, the most common version of this “Law” uses the action and reaction term. Of course forces come in pair always—it doesn’t matter if the objects are moving or stationary. So, the “action” and “reaction” don’t always make sense. This is why I prefer the force law stated as the following:

Forces come in pairs. For every force, there is an equal and opposite force.

If you have to write it in that form—that’s the best way. But what about action and reaction? This statement is still true in many cases. Let me give you an example.

Take a balloon and fill it with air. Now let the air out and remove your hands from the balloon. What happens? The air inside the balloon is at a higher pressure than outside the balloon. This means the stretched balloon rubber PUSHES the air out. Oh, but forces come in pairs—this means that the air also pushes on the balloon. Since a force CHANGES the momentum of an object (where momentum is mass multiplied by velocity), the balloon speeds up one way (action) and the air speeds up the other way (reaction).

Yes, that is EXACTLY how a rocket works—except it uses a chemical reaction to push gas out instead of stretched rubber.

I spent too much time on this one quote. I can’t help myself.

Disabling a Contact Mine

These explosive bombs are magnetically attached to the vehicle. Obviously, you can’t just pull them off—that’s how they EXPLODE. So, MacGyver’s idea is to destroy their electronic components with the car’s battery. If he can run electrical current through the mine, then maybe they will be disabled.

Fortunately, the mine is on a metal hood—assuming the paint doesn’t form too thick of an insulating layer then he can use the car’s ground as one of the contact points. Then he would just need to run a wire from the positive terminal of the car’s battery (he could get the positive from the 12V outlet inside the car) to the mine.

Yes. This process might also kill the truck—especially if current goes through the ECU (basically the computer that runs the engine).

DIY Electromagnet

Electrical current creates a magnetic field. If you wrap a wire into a coil with multiple loops, each loop will create a magnetic field that adds to the other magnetic fields from coils. So, more loops means a great magnetic field.

If you put a ferromagnetic core in the loop (like iron or most forms of steel), then these electromagnetic loops will also magnetize the coil and make the whole thing even stronger.

This is exactly what MacGyver does. He uses his Swiss Army Knife as a ferromagnetic coil and a battery from a flashlight as the power source. Then he uses this to pull out a bullet fragment from a wound. Now, he has to get lucky to use this. Most bullets are made of non-ferromagnetic materials (like lead or copper). But if it has even a little bit of steel (or some other materials), there’s a chance he can pull it out with the magnet.

Oh, one last note. The wire can’t be plain copper wire. It has to have some type of electrical insulation on the outside. This insulation forces the current to move around in a loop instead of taking a short cut from the start to finish. Some wire has a rubber coating to insulate it—but in this case, it’s called “magnet wire”. It has a thin enamel coating so that you can wrap it into a coil.

Dobsonian Telescope

It’s not really a hack, but it is important for the plot. There’s a telescope that MacGyver is going to use later. It’s a Dobsonian mount.

The “Dobsonian” part really refers to the way the telescope is aimed and not so much about the optics. I’m pretty sure every Dobsonian telescope uses a Newtonian optic design. It uses a large focusing mirror at the base of the telescope. Here is a very basic design.

The nice thing about this design is that it’s actually quite simple to build. The only complicated part is the parabolic mirror (which you could also make yourself—but it would take some bit of time). Oh, I left off the walls of the telescope above because you don’t actually need them.

But what about the mount? The Dobsonian is basically just two swivel points. The base of the mount turns and then the telescope moves up and down. Super simple. But it’s not the best design for serious astronomy. The problem is that the Earth rotates. If you were to watch the stars in the sky over the course of a night, they would move in a slow circle about the Earth’s rotational axis. Sure, it’s takes 24 hours (about) for the stars to complete this circle—but they are indeed moving.

If you want to take a time exposure picture of a star (like for 10 minutes or so), then that star is going to move and leave a streak on the image. Actually, someone needs to remind me to take a “star trail” picture sometime. So, the Dobsonian mount has to move both rotation points in order to compensate for this star motion. It’s tough.

The other telescope mount design is called an equatorial mount. In this case, one of the rotation axes is aligned with the Earth’s rotation. That means that you can just slowly turn this one axis and a telescope will remain pointed at a particular star. This has nothing to do with MacGyver—but I just thought I would mention it.

Super Bright Moon

MacGyver needs a distraction. What about the telescope? So, here’s what he does: he aims the telescope at the moon and then lets the image project onto a baddie. The bright light is just the distraction he needs.

Here’s where a big telescope becomes useful. The diameter of the mirror (or lens if it’s a refracting telescope) is related to the light gathering power. All of the light that hits that large mirror is focused up to the eyepiece. So, even very dim lights can be detected. Yes, even very dark things like distant galaxies or comets (both of which can not always been seen by the naked eye) can be detected with a large telescope.

Actually, if you want to get into amateur astronomy you should start off with a nice pair of binoculars. They are much easier to set up than a telescope (because you just grab them out of the case and you are ready to go). Also, with large lenses they can really let you see some stuff that’s invisible to the naked eye. It’s not about the magnification, it’s about the light gathering.

Oh, but a full moon IS indeed super bright. You really can’t look at it with a large telescope unless you have some type of filter. Also, don’t look at the sun with a telescope. That is a super bad idea.