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In that case, the object follows a circular path.

If the applied force is always perpendicular to the

velocity vector, the object constantly changes direction,
but never speeds up or slows down.

A force applied perpendicular to

an objects velocity vector
instantaneously changes the
direction of the velocity vector,
but not the objects speed.


Consider an object moving in a straight line.

There are analogous equations for rotational quantities.

You will see them later in the course. I believe our
starting point for circular motion best involves forces
(dynamics). However, lets start by considering circular
motion without looking at the forces involved.

Do you remember the equations of kinematics?

Kinematics of Uniform
Circular Motion




If you apply a force perpendicular to an objects velocity

vector, you will change its direction of motion BUT NOT

If you apply a force parallel to the velocity vector you

can only change an objects speed, not its direction.

A force applied perpendicular to an objects velocity

vector instantaneously changes the direction of the
velocity vector, but not the objects speed.

A force applied parallel to an objects velocity vector

increases the objects speed.

Summary and consequences:

In the limit t0, the length of the velocity vector does

not change.

A force F applied perpendicular

to the direction of motion for a
time t changes the direction of
the velocity vector.

A force applied parallel to an objects velocity vector

increases the objects speed.

A force F applied parallel to the

direction of motion for a time
t increases the magnitude of
velocity by an amount at, but
does not change the direction
of motion.


Your book shows that

ar =


If the ball moves uniformly in a circle,

both the force and acceleration
continually change direction, so that
they always point to the center of the

The centripetal force due to the string

gives rise to a centripetal (also called
radial) acceleration.

The force that accelerates the ball is the tension in the

string to which it is attached.

The moon orbiting the earth (approximately).

The earth orbiting the sun (approximately).

A car rounding a circular curve.

A child on a merry-go-round.

A ball tied to the end of a string and whirled


An example of the latter is circular motion.

For the problems on circular motion, you need to recall

the definitions of frequency, period, and know how to
use the fact that that an object moving in a circle with
constant speed has velocity given by v = 2r / T.

Note: if the motion is not uniform (the speed changes or

the radius of the circle changes) there will also be a
tangential acceleration. We will not worry about that
case here.

The ball is accelerated because its velocity constantly

changes. If the motion is uniform circular, the
acceleration is towards the center of the circle; i.e., the
acceleration is radial or centripetal.

The instantaneous acceleration is

perpendicular to the velocity vector.

The instantaneous velocity is tangent

to the path of motion (OK to attach
velocity to objectthis is not a freebody diagram).

A ball on a string:

An object moving in a circle with constant speed is said

to undergo uniform circular motion.

= m ar

= m ax




An example of an accelerated reference frame is a child

riding on a merry-go-round, from the childs point of

You feel the centripetal force of the door

pushing you towards the center of the circle
of the turn!

Your confused brain interprets the effect of Newtons first

law as a force pushing you outward.

But I feel a force!

If you wish to refer your coordinates to an axis system

that is accelerated, you cannot directly apply Newtons

I didnt tell you this before, but Newtons laws are valid
only in inertial (non-accelerated) reference frames.

Then why do engineers (and other supposedly educated

people) talk about centrifugal forces?

T =m

(+T ) = m +

Tx = m ax

Choose an axis parallel to the

acceleration vector. The direction of
the y-axis is irrelevant here.

Example. Suppose the ball (mass m) in the example I

gave in the previous section moves with a constant
speed V. What is the tension in the string.

There is no such thing as centrifugal force!

What about the centrifugal force I feel when my car goes

around a curve at high speed?


Isnt there an outward force, pulling the ball out?

where the subscript r stands for radial. You may also

use the subscript c (centripetal).


The OSE sheet contains a variation on Newtons second


Now we consider causes (forces) of circular motion.

Newtons Laws still apply.

Dynamics of Uniform
Circular Motion


You ought to have a look at Dr. Frasers Bad Science

page. I have caught myself in more than one mistake he
talks about!



Here are a couple of good links on centrifugal and coriolis


Can you think of any other common non-inertial

reference frames?

Sometimes it is much simpler to use the accelerated

reference frame, so centrifugal force is not really a
bad thing. Plus, it gives physicists something to

Centrifugal force is a pseudo-force used to allow us to

apply Newtons laws in an accelerated reference frame.

If you try to apply Newtons laws in this accelerated

reference frame, it appears that there really is a
centrifugal force trying to throw the child outward.

How a garbage disposer works:

The coriolis force does not cause your bathtub to drain

with a counterclockwise rotation! It represents a small
correction and is only observable (except for carefullyconstructed experiments) for incredibly large masses of

The coriolis force causes low pressure systems to rotate

counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere,
conterclockwise in the southern.

A good example is the coriolis force, another pseudo


Why can we use Newtons laws? Because for normal

problems the corrections due to rotation are small
enough to be negligible.

The earth is orbiting the sun, and also revolving. It is not

an inertial reference frame!

Later, if I can find the time, we will learn about universal

gravitation, and see if this force agrees with the force
calculated from the law of universal gravitation.

The mass of the moon is about 7.35x1022 kg. Show that

the force that the earth exerts on the moon is 2.07x1020
newtons. What force does the moon exert on the earth?

Example: the moons nearly circular orbit about the earth

has a radius of about 384000 km and a period of 27.3
days. Show that the acceleration of the earth towards
the moon is 2.82x10-3 m/s2, or about 2.78x10-4 g.