The Galilean Transformation Explained

There are football fans still debating whether Wilson’s pitch was a forward lateral or not. Physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson weighed in on the situation saying it was a perfect representation of the Galilean Transformation.

So what exactly is the Galilean Transformation? Well, the Britannica Encyclopedia definition is

A set of equations in classical physics that relate the space and time coordinates of two systems moving at a constant velocity relative to each other. Adequate to describe phenomena at speeds much smaller than the speed of light, Galilean transformations formally express the ideas that space and time are absolute; that length, time, and mass are independent of the relative motion of the observer; and that the speed of light depends upon the relative motion of the observer.

Let’s break all of this information down. First, we need to consider that the velocity of all bodies is going to be constant. The “reference frame” is a set location, like coordinate points on a plane, that start and stop at a specific spot. In our reference frame, we will use the hash marks and the solid white yard lines. Now that we have that out of the way, we can dive in.

Russell Wilson will pitch the ball to Mike Davis. The velocity of Russell Wilson makes the ball appear to go forward as his velocity is faster than the ball being lateraled backward. What also causes the illusion of a forward lateral is the rapid tackle of Wilson shortly after the lateral which drastically changes his velocity to zero and the increase in acceleration by Mike Davis to catch the pass. But when you replay the clip and focus purely on the ball, it does travel backward less than a yard from the 47-yard line towards the 46.


Wilson G.T..png
Russell Wilson laterals to Mike Davis before being tackled.


I want to use Einsteinian physics

Einsteinian physics cannot be applied to this concept. For that type of physics to apply, we need two things: celestial bodies with a large mass and speed of light properties. Because of how small our references and velocities are, Newtonian physics, also known as classical mechanics, apply to this concept. Einsteinian physics incorporates the bending of time and space and special relativity and is a gateway for quantum mechanics and physics. Football does a great job showing all of Newton’s Laws of Motion.

Hope that clears the air and helps explain things a bit better. Have questions or want a deeper explanation? Leave a comment below and we will try to get back to you as soon as we can with the answer you want.