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....

# Shooting pool

Two pool balls collide, and as before we assume there is no decrease in the total kinetic energy, i.e., no energy converted from KE into other forms. As in the previous example, we assume we are given the initial velocities and want to find the final velocities. The equations and unknowns are:

unknown #1: x component of ball #1's final momentum

unknown #2: y component of ball #1's final momentum

unknown #3: x component of ball #2's final momentum

unknown #4: y component of ball #2's final momentum

equation #1: conservation of the total px

equation #2: conservation of the total py

equation #3: no decrease in total KE

Note that we do not count the balls' final kinetic energies as unknowns, because knowing the momentum vector, one can always find the velocity and thus the kinetic energy. The number of equations is less than the number of unknowns, so no unique result is guaranteed. This is what makes pool an interesting game. By aiming the cue ball to one side of the target ball you can have some control over the balls' speeds and directions of motion after the collision.

It is not possible, however, to choose any combination of final speeds and directions. For instance, a certain shot may give the correct direction of motion for the target ball, making it go into a pocket, but may also have the undesired side-effect of making the cue ball go in a pocket.

Last Update: 2009-06-21