Sep. 18, 2013 at 12:50 PM ET
Whether well planned or by coincidence, Tuesday's Google Doodle arrives right on time to reeducate us all on the purpose of giant pendulums. Honoring the 194th birthday of Léon Foucault, the interactive bit of animation shows how the physicist used a pendulum in 1851 to illustrate the Earth, rotating on its axis, even as it revolves around the sun.
Born in Paris over a century before computer modeling would be readily available, Foucault had a gift for McGyvering contraptions that would model hard-to-fathom concepts of science. As well as illustrating what our own planet is up to out in space, Foucault collaborated on a tool to measure the speed of light, helped improve photography and even named the gyroscope — an essential part for toys and spaceships — though he didn't invent it.
Through Foucault, we know society is better served when pendulums are used for science, rather than the overtly phallic ride of former child star Miley Cyrus in her "Wrecking Ball" video (now played on YouTube nearly 120 million times). It's a lesson Grand Valley State University students in Michigan could stand to learn, after faculty were forced to remove a 500-pound pendulum sculpture when nude "Wrecking Ball" reenactments became all the rage on campus. Now, anyone wishing to celebrate Foucault's birthday can forget about making a pilgrimage to Michigan to view Dale Eldred's 40-year-old diurnal-motion steel art.
The good news, Google's picking up the slack! While you can't "ride" this Doodle, you can manipulate both time and Earth location of the animated image, to show where the Earth is in both rotation and orbit at any point in time.