The Nile river is the longest river in the world. It starts out in Lake Victoria, in the
middle of Africa, and flows nearly four thousand (4,000) miles north to the Mediterranean
Lake Victoria, where the Nile starts, is the second
largest fresh-water lake in the world. The only lake that is larger is Lake Superior, in
between Canada and the United States.
Now nobody knows for sure who first suggested the great ping pong
ball experiment. It might have been dreamed up by some absent-minded, daydreaming
inventor. Or, it could have been thought up by some great scientist. Or, it might have
been thought up by a little kindergartener in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
But the important thing is that somebody thought of it. And before
long, people all over the world were talking about it. The newspapers printed stories
about it. Television stations did special feature stories on it. And, everyone, just
everyone, expected that the great ping pong ball experiment would happen right on time.
What exactly was the great ping pong ball experiment anyway? How
was the experiment to be performed, and what was it supposed to show?
The great ping pong ball experiment took place to show just one
thing. The purpose of the experiment was to show that a small, frail ping pong ball could
travel four thousand miles down the longest river in the world.
The experiment would end when the ping pong ball reached the
capital city of Egypt, Cairo. At that time, a kindergarten student from one of the schools
in Cairo would reach down into the Nile, and pick up the ping pong ball that had been
thrown into the river way back at Lake Victoria.
Two months. That's how long the ping pong ball would have to
travel from Lake Victoria to Cairo. To add some zest and excitement to the experiment, the
ping pong ball was to be thown into the top of the Nile River on November 1, 1999. The
entire world would then watch to see if the ball could travel the length of the Nile
before midnight, December 31, 1999.
But the journey would be a dangerous one for a small, frail ping
pong ball to travel. The ball would have to survive at least nine large waterfalls. It
would have to survive being thrown against rocks and boulders. It would have to survive
getting stuck in the papyrus reeds by the side of the river. And most importantly, it
would have to survive getting swallowed by any hungry fish along the way.
People would follow it all along its long journey. Scientists
would follow it by driving along roads that travelled parallel to the Nile river. They
would keep careful track of how far the ball had travelled each day. Sometimes they would
even circle over the ping pong ball in a helicopter, making sure that the ball was safely
Once a week people all over the globe would turn on their
televisions to see how far the ping pong ball had travelled in the past week. The
television studios would have a large map of Africa on the wall, with an arrow pointing to
where the ping ball was on that particular day.
It would be an elegantly simple experiment for the people of
planet Earth to perform. For two months, the attention of the world would be focussed on
what was happening to a ping pong ball travelling down the Nile river.
The outcome of the great ping pong ball experiment would not
change the lives of many persons living on this planet. But perhaps, just perhaps, the
experiment itself would help people realize that in some ways the planet Earth is just a
small, frail ping pong ball traveling through space.