If there was a hole drilled directly through the center of the earth and a ball was dropped into it, what would happen to the ball? Would it oscillate up and down in the hole until it remained suspended in the center? — JC, Dallas, TX
Yes, if the hole were drilled from the north pole to the south pole, the ball would behave just as you say. Assuming that there were no air resistance, the ball would drop through the center of the earth and rise to the surface on the other side. It would then return via the same path and travel all the way back to your hand. This motion would repeat over and over again, with the ball taking 84 minutes to go from your hand to your hand. That time is the same as it would take a satellite to orbit the earth once at sea level. In effect, the ball is orbiting through the earth rather than around it!
However, because there would be air resistance unless you maintained a vacuum inside the hole, the ball wouldn’t rise to its original height after each passage through the earth. It would gradually loss energy and speed, and would eventually settle down at the very center of the earth.Finally, the reason for drilling the hole from the north pole to south pole is to avoid complications due to the earth’s rotation. If you were to drill the hole anywhere but through the earth’s rotational axis, the ball would hit the sides of the hole as it fell and its behavior would be altered.