Uniform circular motion

Uniform circular motion

There are two types of circular motion: uniform circular motion and non-uniform circular motion.

Uniform circular motion describes motion in which an object moves with constant speed along a circular path.


Figure 1 illustrates velocity and acceleration vectors for uniform motion at four different points in the orbit. Because the velocity v is tangent to the circular path, no two velocities point in the same direction. Although the object has a constant "speed", its "direction" is always changing. This change in velocity is caused by an acceleration a, whose magnitude is (like that of the velocity) held constant, but whose direction also is always changing. The acceleration points radially inwards (centripetally) and is perpendicular to the velocity. This acceleration is known as centripetal acceleration.

For a path of radius "r", when an angle θ is swept out, the distance traveled on the periphery of the orbit is "s" = "r"θ. Therefore, the speed of travel around the orbit is "v" = "r" "d"θ /"dt" = ω "r", where the angular rate of rotation is ω. (By rearrangement, ω = "v" / "r".) Thus, "v" is a constant, and the velocity vector v also rotates with constant magnitude "v", at the same angular rate ω.


The left-hand circle in Figure 2 is the orbit showing the velocity vectors at two adjacent times. On the right, these two velocities are moved so their tails coincide. Because speed is constant, the velocity vectors on the right sweep out a circle as time advances. For a swept angle "d"θ = ω "dt" the change in v is a vector at right angles to v and of magnitude "v" "d"θ, which in turn means that the magnitude of the acceleration is given by "a" = "v" "d"θ / "dt" = "v"ω = "v"2 / "r".rr

Centripetal force

The acceleration is due to an inward acting force, which is known as the centripetal force. Centripetal force means “center seeking” force. It is the force that keeps an object in uniform circular motion. We determine this force by using Newton's second law of motion, Fnet = "m" a, where Fnet is the net force acting on the object (this is the centripetal force, Fc, of an object in uniform circular motion), "m" is the mass of the object, and a is the acceleration of the object. Since the acceleration of the object in uniform circular motion is the centripetal acceleration, we can substitute "v"2 / "r" or ( 4 π2 "r" ) / "T"2 for "a" = |a|, where "T" is the period of revolution, ω = 2π / "T". This substitution results in "F"c = "m v"2 / "r" or "F"c = ( 4 π2 "m " "r" ) / "T"2.

The centripetal force can be provided by many different things, such as tension (as in a sling), friction (as between tires and road for a turning car), gravity (as between the Sun and the Earth).

Figure 3 shows an example of the role of centripetal force in maintaining a circular orbit: a mass tied to a rope and spinning around in a horizontal circle. The tension in the rope is the centripetal force, and it is the force keeping the object in uniform circular motion.

If the rope is cut at a particular time, the ball continues to move in the direction of its velocity at the moment of cutting, traveling tangent to the circular path.

In Figure 3, the ropee holding the ball of mass m is cut about ¾ of the way around the orbit. After the rope is cut, the tension force/centripetal force is no longer acting upon the object so there is no force holding the object in uniform circular motion. Therefore it continues going in the direction when it was last in contact with the force.

Consider the example of a car racing in a circular track. Similar to the tension force, the radially directed component of frictional force between the tires of the car and the road provides the centripetal force keeping the car in the circle. If the road were a frictionless plane, the car would not be able to move in uniform circular motion, and would instead travel in a straight line. For example, if there is a slick spot on the track, the car leaves the track much in the manner shown in Figure 3, accompanied by some spinning about its own axis to conserve angular momentum.

External links

* [http://www.physclips.unsw.edu.au/ Physclips: Mechanics with animations and video clips] from the University of New South Wales

ee also

* Circular motion
* Centripetal force
* Fictional force
* Reactive centrifugal force
* Sling (weapon)

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