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Velocity

Velocity

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The velocity of an object is its speed in a particular direction. Where speed was a scalar only measured by its magnitude, velocity is a vector quantity, since it is described both by its magnitude and direction. It is calculated using the same equation as speed, however using the displacement rather than the distance.

Velocity

An object moving in a circular path at a constant speed is constantly changing direction, meaning that the velocity of the object is changing. Since the velocity of the object is not constant, the object must be accelerating, and thus there must be a resultant force acting on it to cause this acceleration. This force is called the centripetal force and it acts towards the centre of the circle at 90˚ to the speed, as it does not affect it. The centripetal force is the resultant of all forces acting in the direction towards the centre of the circle it is travelling through.

Rotational motion

An object falling through a fluid will reach terminal velocity through the following process. Any object dropped near the surface of the Earth will accelerate downwards due to the force of gravity. As the speed of the object increases, the frictional forces (drag/air resistance) increase too. When the frictional forces increase enough to match the weight of the object, the resultant force on the object will be 0. Since there is no resultant force, the object will no longer be accelerating and will be travelling at a constant velocity called the terminal velocity. In the case of a skydiver, when the parachute is opened, the air resistance suddenly increases due to the great surface area of the parachute, causing the skydiver to slow down. As the speed of the skydiver decreases, the air resistance force decreases too, until a new terminal velocity is reached when the weight of the skydiver and the air resistance become equal again.

Terminal velocity

The motion of a falling object that reaches terminal velocity can be modelled by the given velocity-time graph. The beginning of the graph shows the acceleration of the object downwards due to its weight. The slope then starts to decrease as the resistive forces start to increase with increasing speed. Eventually, the graph flatterns out as the object reaches its constant terminal velocity.

Velocity-time graphs for terminal velocity

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