from the watching-the-earth-rotate dept.
KentuckyFC writes "Set a pendulum in motion and you'll inevitably give it an ellipsoidal motion, which naturally tends to precess. That's bad news if you want to build a Foucault Pendulum, a bob attached to a long wire swinging in a vertical plane that appears to rotate as the Earth spins beneath it. The natural precession always tends to swamp the rotation due to the Earth's motion. There is a solution, however: the behavior of the ellipsoidal motion is inversely proportional to the pendulum's length. So the traditional answer has been to use a very long pendulum (Foucalt's original in Paris is 67 meters long). Now scientists at Carnegie Mellon University have another solution (abstract). They've created a motor that drives a pendulum in a way that always cancels out the precession. That means the effect of Earth's rotation can be seen on much shorter pendulums such as the 3-meter pendulum on which they've tested their motor. That's just the start though. They say there is no limit to how short the new generation of Foucault Pendulums can be, and even talk about the possibility of tabletop devices."
"If you want to eat hippopatomus, you've got to pay the freight."
-- attributed to an IBM guy, about why IBM software uses so much memory