The Swinging Key

berengaria1

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#1
I asked my bf the other day about the weirdest thing that had ever happened to him. He said that a few years ago he was working in a reclamation yard and there was a skip full of stuff that appeared to come from an old dear's house, among which was a massive rusted metal key. Knowing his friend liked collecting old keys, he took it to him. The mate hung the key on a hook on the dresser in the kitchen. The two friends had been standing chatting for a few minutes (joking whether the key had come from a castle or something, given the size and apparent age) when Steve said he noticed in his peripheral vision that the key was swinging - but only to one side. After watching it for a while, he took a piece of cotton (why cotton I don't know) and held it up to the hook. The cotton started to twitch and follow the key, flicking up to one side only. His mate thought he was doing it deliberately, so he took the piece of cotton, only to be so freaked out at the movement that he stopped doing it. Steve then held the key to stop it moving and from that moment on, it never moved again. He said he reckoned it had been swinging for about 10 minutes. I thought it was a great story, well worth re-telling. Any explanations? Magnets or something?
 

mejane

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#2
Magnetism would be my bet, if there was a magnetic field above and to the side of it then the iron key could be drawn up to it, only to fall back again when the force of gravity outweighed the magnetic force. The cotton thread could have "clung" to the key (electrostatic force?).

That said, I would have expected the key to swing at least a little way in the other direction before being pulled back again by the magnet.

Anyway, enough of my pseudo-scientific babble, I'm off to find a key, a length of cotton and a magnet :D

Jane.
 

berengaria1

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#3
A magnet or something was my first thought too, but he said the key was about 6 inches long and really heavy. Also, you'd think it would have started swinging again after he held it still. His explanation was that maybe the old woman who used to own it was just saying hello and was quite happy it had been given a good home. I am too much of a sceptic to attribute supernatural powers to it but, apart from the supermagnet theory, I'm at a loss to explain.
 

berengaria1

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#4
Just asked Steve for more details of the key thing. Apparently, I got a few details wrong - it started swinging when he hung it up (no windows open, nothing else on the dresser moving, no magnets in the place) so they went off to the living room and had a couple of cans before coming back, finding it still swinging to one side, and doing the cotton test. He said it must have been about 20 minutes it was swinging. The key was rusted to hell, about 6 inches long, the top was round and sort of scalloped. The key bit was square with a cross-shaped hole, but there were no indents around the square piece. Apparently his mate still has the key - might try to get a photo of it if I can, if anyone's interested.
 

mejane

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#5
Okay, I've been playing with keys and magnets (yes, I know I'm sad :D). I didn't have a large key or large magnet to hand so had to scale down...

A standard yale-type door key was hung from a plastic hook in such a way to allow the key to swing freely in either direction. As expected, the key swung equally in both directions when pushed to either left or right, the pendulum motion slowing down over the course of a few seconds and finally halting

Holding the key in place, a magnet was then placed approx. 3" above and to the left of the key. The key again needed a push to get the pendulum motion stated, but this time the magnet... had no decernable effect. In later experiments, the magnet was moved closer and closer to the key until finally the key moved of its own accord... and stuck to the magnet.

Conclusion: There's a reason I never wanted to be a practical physicist :D

I suspect a practical joke by Steve's mate.

Jane.
 

rynner2

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#8
mejane said:
Holding the key in place, a magnet was then placed approx. 3" above and to the left of the key. The key again needed a push to get the pendulum motion stated, but this time the magnet... had no decernable effect. In later experiments, the magnet was moved closer and closer to the key until finally the key moved of its own accord... and stuck to the magnet.

Conclusion: There's a reason I never wanted to be a practical physicist :D
Well done Jane! You achieved the result I would have expected - "the key moved of its own accord... and stuck to the magnet."

The reason is, that if the magnet is strong enough to deflect the key in the first place, the magnetic attraction will increase as the distance decreases - this is a positive feedback effect.

I would have posted something to that effect, but the thread was ahead of me!

(Admittedly the gravitational influence will also increase as the angle increases - I guess it's possible with certain initial parameters that the key will move sideways a certain amount and then reach equilibrium between magnetic and gravitational forces, but such equilibrium states are probably not common.)


So you're not sad, Jane, just a good experimental physicist!

Don't take anyone's word for it, try it for yourself! :D
 

IamSundog

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#10
Not solved, though. The experiment showed that the magnet either had no effect when it was too far from the key, or attracted the key and held it when it was near. Which is what you would expect, I would think.

Rynner postulates that an equilibrium state between the magnet and gravitational force might be possible, but I don't think he's correct on that one. I'm not sure, but I've never heard of a mechism like that, and it sounds like a perpetual motion machine (I dont believe that gravitational force on the key would increase with the angle, but physics class was a LONG time ago). At any rate, it was not what the experiment showed.

For the key to remain swinging for twenty minutes would probably require either repeated application of a force (push, earth tremor, air currents?) or a single push and a remarkably low friction environment...

Not saying this is all that mysterious - I'd guess the key started swinging when the guy hung it up, was heavy so it had a lot of momentum, had an unusually low friction pivot, and they overestimated the amount of time. The swinging to one side possibly a visual illusion and the movement of the cotton due to static electricity.

That or a poltergeist.
 

rynner2

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#11
sundog said:
Rynner postulates that an equilibrium state between the magnet and gravitational force might be possible, but I don't think he's correct on that one. I'm not sure, but I've never heard of a mechism like that, and it sounds like a perpetual motion machine (I dont believe that gravitational force on the key would increase with the angle, but physics class was a LONG time ago).
The gravitation force on the key would not increase with the angle, but the gravitational torque (leverage, if you like) would. So possibly an angle exists where the gravitational toque would just balance the magnetic torque. (But even if so, it might prove to be an unstable equilibrium, like balancing a pencil on its point, where the teeniest movement either way would destroy the balance.)

But things can stay swinging for a surprising amount of time. In ROCS we have things like shackles hanging up on wall dispalys, and we often notice they are still swinging minutes after a customer has touched them. Something heavy, like such metal objects, have energy to disperse after being displaced, and this is lost mainly through air resistance, which is not particularly high for low angles of swing.
 

IamSundog

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#12
OK I've spent more time thinking about this than I'd care to admit....

Rynner I've decided you are right. Given a metal object swinging freely on a string, friction will gradually reduce the amplitude of the swing. Now put a magnet at just the right position to pull on the object at one upswing, it could conceiveably exert just the right amount of force to counteract the friction.

OK that's essentially just reiterating what you said but I had to think of it in terms of the magnet counteracting the friction, not gravity.

With a million physicists locked in a room for a million years with magnets, strings, and keys, you could probably demonstrate it. Still not a very likely explanation for this event, though!
 

RealPaZZa

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#13
sundog said:
OK I've spent more time thinking about this than I'd care to admit....

Rynner I've decided you are right. Given a metal object swinging freely on a string, friction will gradually reduce the amplitude of the swing. Now put a magnet at just the right position to pull on the object at one upswing, it could conceiveably exert just the right amount of force to counteract the friction.

OK that's essentially just reiterating what you said but I had to think of it in terms of the magnet counteracting the friction, not gravity.

With a million physicists locked in a room for a million years with magnets, strings, and keys, you could probably demonstrate it. Still not a very likely explanation for this event, though!
Its probably more productive to lock a million lawyers in a room and just forget about them :) :) :)
 

Leaferne

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#14
PaZZa said:
Its probably more productive to lock a million lawyers in a room and just forget about them :) :) :)
Well, you throw the burning rag in first. That's just common sense.
 

Aarauer

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#15
Maybe the whole room is tipped to one side (subsidence?) and the key swinging only to one side was an optical illusion. Can you try it again with something ordinary, like Jane's doorkey, in the room?
 

crouton1198

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#16
It seems to me that experimenting with another key, cotton, and a magnet witll only give accurate results if they are exactly the same as the originals. Therefore, I want more information about the original set up. Was the key hanging on the hook by a hole in the key, or by a rope/thread/piece of string? What was the key made of? If you said it was rusted, it's probably some sort of iron.

My only explanation is that somehow the hook allowed the key to swing in one direction only (there was a flaw in the hook or key that prevented free movement). Such as smooth (the side that swings) and rough (the side that doesn't).

As for the cotton, I have no idea. :?:
 
A

Anonymous

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#17
If the 'key bit' was heavy then the key would hang to one side a bit , therefore when it was swinging, it could look like the key wasn't swinging past a vertical line drawn down from the nail it was hanging from, but just to one side of it. i.e. it was still going through simple harmonic motion but only to one side of the vertical due to its uneven centre of gravity.

Haven't a clue about the thread mind! :lol:

Russ.
 

berengaria1

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#18
The key was hung up on the hook by the hole in the top of the key (does that make sense?) - it wasn't hanging lopsidedly. It was made of iron and very rusty. I asked Steve what he thought caused it and he just said some sort of force - there were definitely no magnets around. He said that, when he and his mate were holding the bits of cotton, you could actually feel them twitching (the cotton, not them :lol: ).
I would like to believe in a rational explanation but, the fact that it swung for about 20 mins and never moved again after that, is something I can't explain. Interesting to read all the theories though, thanks.
 

Yithian

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#19
I would like to believe in a rational explanation but, the fact that it swung for about 20 mins and never moved again after that, is something I can't explain. Interesting to read all the theories though, thanks.
So a magnetic force of limited duration: one that was either deactivated or moved.
 

henry

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#20
you can replicate this exact movement of the key by rotating the hook, as long as its a typical horizontal screw-in hook ... although should have been obvious to an observer, cans or no cans
 

brownmane

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#21
Just a thought, if I'm understanding the description. The key seemed to be swinging more to one side than the other. What if the floor they were standing was skewed and not level, or something in their sight line, such as a doorway, was crooked? Would that not cause an illusion of the key not hanging straight down? The key hanging would have to be straight because gravity would pull it that way, but if your mind is assuming that everything else is straight, and that was not so, then your mind would see the key as swinging more one way than the other. Does that make sense to everyone? I can't make a drawing to explain.
 

EnolaGaia

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#22
... The key seemed to be swinging more to one side than the other. What if the floor they were standing was skewed and not level, or something in their sight line, such as a doorway, was crooked? Would that not cause an illusion of the key not hanging straight down? ...
Yes - that's a possible aspect of the scenario, as Aarauer mentioned earlier.

However, this could explain why the key was not hanging strictly vertically at rest. In and of itself, this wouldn't explain the ongoing swinging motion.
 

EnolaGaia

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#24
I think the critical clue here relates to the bit about the fabric being attracted to, and following, the key.

This sounds like transient electromagnetic attraction associated with a static electrical charge.

My guess would be that the hanging key was serving as a focal point for an electrical charge, and it was sufficiently well balanced on the hook to permit it to swing toward something else under the influence of induced magnetism.

I'd love to know what kitchen feature sat in the direction to which the key was attracted.
 

RaM

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#26
This got me thinking, we have a quite heavy old wall clock made in Germany it has
a scale for setting the pendulum vertical, over a few months you can hear the tick
change and when you stop the clock the pendulum is not vertical so you have to
reset it to the scale, it takes quit a bit of force to reset it, I find it difficult to believe
that vibration from traffic or the clock would be strong enough to move the clock
back but cant think of much else, I've just adjusted it back yet again but this time marked
the wall to see if the clock is in fact moving or something else is going on.
 

Scribbles

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#27
I know you'll all be aware that keys have a lot of symbolism attached to them, esp in ancient stories and the like, but as no one else is coming from this angle, so I thought I'd just mention.

There is something wonderful and mysterious about old keys. I mean, Berengaria, your bf's mate likes old keys and when your bf saw the key, he knew he would want it. I'm quite drawn to keys too.

I'm going to propose that this swinging key was an energy thing, maybe just a discharge of energy, symbolising something or nothing, let's face it, we'll never know. Big old keys did important jobs, they shouldn't be chucked in a skip and I'm glad this one was saved.

I'd love to see a pic if poss :)
 

IbisNibs

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#29
What if the floor they were standing was skewed and not level, or something in their sight line, such as a doorway, was crooked? Would that not cause an illusion of the key not hanging straight down?
This is how various "mystery spots", including this one, https://www.mysteryspot.com/ , work. An elaborate setting gets built around a few small anomolies. Maybe you could open your own mystery spot tourist attraction, Berengaria1? You could probably get some volunteers from IHTM to help you set it up!
 
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