- The Magnus effect is the commonly observed effect in which a spinning ball (or cylinder) curves away from its principal flight path. It is important in many ball sports. It affects spinning missiles, and has some engineering uses, for instance in the design of rotor ships and Flettner aeroplanes.
In terms of ball games, topspin is defined as spin about a horizontal axis perpendicular to the direction of travel, where the top surface of the ball is moving forward with the spin. Under the Magnus effect, topspin produces a downward swerve of a moving ball, greater than would be produced by gravity alone, and backspin has the opposite effect. Likewise side-spin causes swerve to either side as seen during some baseball pitches, e.g. leg break.
The overall behaviour is similar to that around an airfoil (see lift force) with a circulation which is generated by the mechanical rotation, rather than by airfoil action.
It is named for Gustav Magnus, the German physicist who investigated it. The force on a rotating cylinder is known as Kutta-Joukowski lift, after Martin Wilhelm Kutta and Nikolai Zhukovsky (or Joukowski) who first analyzed the effect.