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....

A component of a force vector

f / Example 4

Figure f, redrawn from a classic 1920 textbook, shows a boy pulling another child on a sled. His force has both a horizontal component and a vertical one, but only the horizontal one accelerates the sled. (The vertical component just partially cancels the force of gravity, causing a decrease in the normal force between the runners and the snow.) There are two triangles in the figure. One triangle's hypotenuse is the rope, and the other's is the magnitude of the force. These triangles are similar, so their internal angles are all the same, but they are not the same triangle. One is a distance triangle, with sides measured in meters, the other a force triangle, with sides in newtons. In both cases, the horizontal leg is 93% as long as the hypotenuse. It does not make sense, however, to compare the sizes of the triangles - the force triangle is not smaller in any meaningful sense.

Last Update: 2009-06-21