I'm in the process of re-reading Arthur C. Clarke's "Rendezvous With Rama", and I just got nerd sniped. Unfortunately, I'm not that up on my physics, especially centrifugal force, so I have no idea if Clarke screwed up, or I did. (I know, it's probably me, but I can't get my head around this.)
For anyone who hasn't read the book, Rama is an alien-made artifact that enters the Solar system. Picture an empty tin can, 8 km in radius, 50 km long. The entire thing is spinning fast enough to provide approximately 0.6G of centrifugal force to anyone standing on the inner surface. The characters in the book enter Rama through an air lock at the hub, where they are weightless; they then descend a series of ladders and stairs, getting heavier as they go, until they reach full weight at the surface.
The part that sniped me was this:
One character comes forward with a contraption designed to fly in 0 to 1/3 gravity. He sets off from the hub, weightless, with the intent to ride along the axis the entire length of Rama. He is warned not to drop down towards the surface, as and lowering at all will increase the weight (or centrifugal force) he feels. But I'm not sure if this is true.
Centrifugal force is not like gravity, which reaches out to pull you down. If there is nothing pushing him along the rotation, he shouldn't feel any centrifugal force at all, right? Of course, the air itself is going to be moving along with Rama's rotation, but would the air near the hub be moving fast enough to exert a serious sideways force on him, causing him to take part in Rama's rotation? Theoretically, if there was no air, he could lower himself almost all the way to the surface (which from his vantage point would be moving by very fast), and still remain weightless the entire time.
So, am I thinking about this entirely wrong? Or is Clarke?