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....

Colliding asteroids described with different axes

Observers on planets A and B both see the two asteroids colliding. The asteroids are of equal mass and their impact speeds are the same. Astronomers on each planet decide to define their own planet as the axis of rotation. Planet A is twice as far from the collision as planet B. The asteroids collide and stick. For simplicity, assume planets A and B are both at rest.

With planet A as the axis, the two asteroids have the same amount of angular momentum, but one has positive angular momentum and the other has negative. Before the collision, the total angular momentum is therefore zero. After the collision, the two asteroids will have stopped moving, and again the total angular momentum is zero. The total angular momentum both before and after the collision is zero, so angular momentum is conserved if you choose planet A as the axis.

The only difference with planet B as axis is that r is smaller by a factor of two, so all the angular momenta are halved. Even though the angular momenta are different than the ones calculated by planet A, angular momentum is still conserved.

Last Update: 2009-06-21