Scientists solve speed surprise in stratospheric stunt

Scientists say they've figured out why an Austrian who became the first skydiver to break the speed of sound fell faster than the drag of his body should have allowed.

Felix Baumgartner jumped from the stratosphere 39 kilometers (24 miles) above Earth on Oct. 14, 2012, and landed safely on the ground near Roswell, New Mexico, nine minutes later.

Baumgartner, whose protective suit and backpack gave him a very irregular shape, reached speeds of up to 1,357.6 kph (843.6 mph) — higher than scientists had expected even for smooth objects in freefall.

In a paper published Thursday by the journal PLOS One, researchers from Munich's Technical University said irregular shapes appear to reduce the aerodynamic drag that increases as objects near the sound barrier.