Lectures on Physics has been derived from Benjamin Crowell's Light and Matter series of free introductory textbooks on physics. See the editorial for more information....

Summary - Motion

An object's center of mass is the point at which it can be balanced. For the time being, we are studying the mathematical description only of the motion of an object's center of mass in cases restricted to one dimension. The motion of an object's center of mass is usually far simpler than the motion of any of its other parts.

It is important to distinguish location, x, from distance, Δx, and clock reading, t, from time interval Δt. When an object's x-t graph is linear, we define its velocity as the slope of the line, Δx/Δt. When the graph is curved, we generalize the definition so that the velocity is the slope of the tangent line at a given point on the graph.

Galileo's principle of inertia states that no force is required to maintain motion with constant velocity in a straight line, and absolute motion does not cause any observable physical effects. Things typically tend to reduce their velocity relative to the surface of our planet only because they are physically rubbing against the planet (or something attached to the planet), not because there is anything special about being at rest with respect to the earth's surface. When it seems, for instance, that a force is required to keep a book sliding across a table, in fact the force is only serving to cancel the contrary force of friction.

Absolute motion is not a well-defined concept, and if two observers are not at rest relative to one another they will disagree about the absolute velocities of objects. They will, however, agree about relative velocities. If object A is in motion relative to object B, and B is in motion relative to C, then A's velocity relative to C is given by vAC = vAB + vBC. Positive and negative signs are used to indicate the direction of an object's motion.

Last Update: 2010-11-11