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Ballistics

Ballistics

When a forensic investigation involves a shooting, ballistics becomes an important facet of the investigation. Ballistics is a term that refers to the science of the flight path of a bullet. The flight path includes the movement of the bullet down the barrel of the firearm following detonation and its path through both the air and the target.

Tracing the path of a bullet is important in a forensic examination. It can reveal from what direction the bullet was fired, which can be vital in corroborating the course of events in the crime or accident.

It is an obvious truism that the distance that a bullet can travel depends on its speed. A higher speed imparts more energy to the bullet. The frictional resistance of the air and the downward pull of gravity will take longer to slow the bullet's flight, as compared to a bullet moving at a lower initial velocity.

Generally, a bullet fired from a rifle will carry more energy than a bullet fired from a handgun. This is because the stronger firing chamber of a rifle is able to withstand the increased explosive power of a larger quantity of powder that would likely rupture the barrel of the handgun. Detonation of the powder in a rifle or handgun supplies the thrust to propel the bullet down the barrel.

Expansion of the exploding gunpowder generates pressure, which is measured as the force of the explosion that pushes on the area of the bullet's base. This area is essentially the diameter of the barrel of the firearm, which remains constant. Thus, the explosive energy that passes to the bullet depends on the mass of the bullet multiplied by the force of the explosion multiplied by the time that the force is applied (i.e., the time the bullet is in the barrel). A longer barrel will produce a faster moving bullet.

Once a bullet leaves the rifle or gun barrel, the aforementioned frictional and gravitational forces begin to slow its speed, producing a downward arc of flight. The frictional force is affected by the bullet's shape. A blunt shape will present more surface area to the air than will a very pointed bullet.

Another factor that affects the flight of a bullet is called yaw. As in an orbiting spacecraft or a football tossed through the air, yaw causes a bullet to turn sideways or tumble in flight. This behavior is decreased when the object spins as it moves forward (the spiraling motion of a football). The barrel of a rifle or gun contains grooves that cause the bullet to spin. More damage results from a bullet that is tumbling rather than moving in a tight spiral.

The shape of a typical bulletmuch like a football with one end blunt instead of taperedis a compromise that reduces air resistance while still retaining the explosive energy that allows the bullet to damage the target.

The composition of a bullet is also important. Lead is commonly used to form the core of bullets. However, because it tends to deform, the blending in of other metals (typically antimony and copper) produces a bullet that can withstand the pressure of flight and impart high energy to the target upon impact.

Copper is often used to jacket the inner lead core of a bullet. However, some bullets are deliberately made without this full metal jacket. Instead, the bullet has a tip made of lead or a tip that is hollow or very blunt. These bullets deform and break apart on impact, producing more damage to the target than is produced by a single piece of metal. This is because the bullet's energy is dissipated within a very short distance in the tissue.

Forensic and medical examiners are able to assess the nature of tissue damage in a victim and gain an understanding of the nature of the bullet used.

A bullet produces tissue damage in three ways. First, a bullet can shred (lacerate) or crush tissue or bone. Bullets moving at relatively low velocity do most of their damage this way. Fragmentation of bone can cause further damage, as the bone shards themselves become missiles.

The second form of damage is known as cavitation. This damage is produced by the forward movement of air or tissue in the wake of the bullet. The wound that is produced by the bullet is destructively broadened by the force of the moving air or tissue. In a tissue, this produces even more structural damage.

Third, the air at the front and sides of a very fast moving bullet can become compressed. The explosive relaxation of the compression generates a damaging shock wave that can be several hundred atmospheres in pressure. Fluid-filled organs such as the bladder, heart, and bowel can be burst by the pressure.

Recovery of bullets can be a very useful part of forensic ballistics. A variety of bullet designs exist, some that are specific to the firearm. Furthermore, the scouring of a bullet's surface as it encounters the grooves of the firearm barrel can produce a distinctive pattern that enables a bullet to be matched with the firearm. A weapon recovered from a suspect can be test fired and the bullet pattern compared with a bullet recovered from the scene to either implicate or dismiss involvement of the firearm in the crime.

This aspect of ballistics was crucial in convicting John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo of the 10 sniper murders and the wounding of three others in the Washington, D.C. area that occurred during three weeks in October of 2002.

see also Bullet lead analysis; Bullet track; Crime scene investigation; Gunshot residue; Firearms.

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Ballistics

Ballistics

Ballistics is the study of projectile motion. A projectile is an object that has been launched, shot, hurled, thrown, or projected by any other means and that then travels on its own along a ballistic path. For instance, a baseball player throwing a ball from center field to the infield usually throws the ball in a slightly upward direction. The ball's path travels along an arc from the outfield to the infield. Mathematically, the arclike path taken by the ball is known as a parabola.

Ballistics has long been a subject of interest to scientists because bullets, cannon shells, arrows, and other weapons travel in ballistic paths. Military leaders have always valued the information that scientists were able to provide them concerning the proper way in which to aim their guns and bows in combat.

Projectile motion without air resistance

Consider a bullet fired from a rifle that is held parallel to (in the same direction as but never touching) the ground. The path taken by that bullet is affected by two forces. The first force is the velocity given to the bullet by the force of the rifle. (Velocity is the rate at which an object moves in a specified direction; it is measured in meters per second.) That force tends to make the bullet move in a straight line, out of the mouth of the rifle and parallel to the ground. If there were no air present, there would be nothing to slow the motion of the bullet and it would keep traveling with its original velocity.

A second force also operates on the bullet: the force of gravity. As the bullet travels away from the gun, it is pulled downward by Earth's gravitational field. Instead of traveling in a straight line, then, it travels in a curved path towards Earth's surface. That curved path, typical of projectile motion, is a parabola.

The exact shape of the bullet's path is determined by two factors: the mass of the bullet and the velocity with which it travels. The heavier the bullet is, the stronger Earth's gravitational field will pull on it. And the faster the bullet leaves the rifle, the greater its tendency to travel in a straight line away from the gun.

Finding the path for any kind of projectile is an easy problem in physics. If one knows the mass of the object and the velocity with which it is projected, then its pathway can be calculated by well-known formulas.

The practical importance of this calculation is obvious. If a naval ship fires a rocket at an enemy vessel, the path of the rocket must be known. Otherwise the rocket may travel beyond the enemy ship or fall into the water before reaching it. A rocket scientist has to know the path of a space probe launched to Mars if the probe is to land exactly on target rather than sailing on past its intended destination.

Other factors affecting projectile motion

Air resistance is another important factor affecting projectile motion. As a rifle bullet travels through the air, it tends to slow down because of friction between the bullet and the air through which it passes. The amount of friction, in turn, is influenced by a number of factors. Among these factors is the shape of the bullet. Most bullets (and other kinds of projectiles) have pointed front endsa feature that reduces air resistance. A bullet with a blunt front end would experience a great deal of air resistance and would slow down rapidly. Rotation affects air resistance as well. A good quarterback always tries to place a spin on a football. This helps the football to travel through the air more smoothly than it would without the spin.

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ballistics

ballistics (bəlĬs´tĬks), science of projectiles. Interior ballistics deals with the propulsion and the motion of a projectile within a gun or firing device. Its problems include the ignition and burning of the propellant powder, the pressure produced by the expanding gases, the movement of the projectile through the bore, and the designing of the barrel to resist resulting stresses and strains. Exterior ballistics is concerned with the motion of a projectile while in flight and includes the study not only of the flight path of bullets but also of bombs, rockets, and missiles. All projectiles traveling through the air are affected by wind, air resistance, and the force of gravity. These forces induce a curved path known as a trajectory. The trajectory varies with the weight and shape of the projectile, with its initial velocity, and with the angle at which it is fired. The general shape of a trajectory is that of a parabola. The total distance traveled by a projectile is known as its range. A ballistic missile in the first stage of its flight is powered and guided by rocket engines. After the engines burn out, the warhead travels in a fixed arc as does an artillery shell. In criminology the term ballistics is applied to the identification of the weapon from which a bullet was fired. Microscopic imperfections in a gun barrel make characteristic scratches and grooves on bullets fired through it, but use causes the marks a particular gun makes to change over time.

See E. D. Lowry, Interior Ballistics (1968); R. C. Labile, Ballistic Materials and Penetration Mechanics (1980); A. J. Pejsa, Modern Practical Ballistics (1989); M. Denny, Their Arrows Will Darken the Sun: The Evolution and Science of Ballistics (2011).

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"ballistics." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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ballistics

ballistics Science of projectiles, including bullets, shells, bombs, rockets, and guided missiles. Interior ballistics deal with the propulsion and motion of the projectile within the firing device. Exterior ballistics investigate the trajectory of the projectile in flight. Terminal ballistics involves the impact and effect of the projectile at the target. At each stage, scientists try to maximize the performance of the gun and projectile by improving their design. Ballistic technology has developed alongside artillery, and with the invention of instruments to monitor variables, such as the ignition and burning of the propellant explosive, the stress on a gun barrel, or the effect of air resistance and gravity on the trajectory.

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"ballistics." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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ballistics

bal·lis·tics / bəˈlistiks/ • pl. n. [treated as sing.] the science of projectiles and firearms. ∎  the study of the effects of being fired on a bullet, cartridge, or gun.

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"ballistics." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"ballistics." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved July 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ballistics