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We have noted that distance traveled can be greater than displacement. So average speed can be greater than average velocity, which is displacement divided by time. For example, if you drive to a store and return home in half an hour, and your car’s odometer shows the total distance traveled was 6 km, then your average speed was 12 km/h. Your average velocity, however, was zero, because your displacement for the round trip is zero. (Displacement is change in position and, thus, is zero for a round trip.) Thus average speed is not simply the magnitude of average velocity.
Another way of visualizing the motion of an object is to use a graph. A plot of position or of velocity as a function of time can be very useful. For example, for this trip to the store, the position, velocity, and speed-vs.-time graphs are displayed in [link] . (Note that these graphs depict a very simplified model of the trip. We are assuming that speed is constant during the trip, which is unrealistic given that we’ll probably stop at the store. But for simplicity’s sake, we will model it with no stops or changes in speed. We are also assuming that the route between the store and the house is a perfectly straight line.)
A commuter train travels from Baltimore to Washington, DC, and back in 1 hour and 45 minutes. The distance between the two stations is approximately 40 miles. What is (a) the average velocity of the train, and (b) the average speed of the train in m/s?
(a) The average velocity of the train is zero because ${x}_{\mathrm{f}}={x}_{0}$ ; the train ends up at the same place it starts.
(b) The average speed of the train is calculated below. Note that the train travels 40 miles one way and 40 miles back, for a total distance of 80 miles.
There is a distinction between average speed and the magnitude of average velocity. Give an example that illustrates the difference between these two quantities.
Does a car’s odometer measure position or displacement? Does its speedometer measure speed or velocity?
If you divide the total distance traveled on a car trip (as determined by the odometer) by the time for the trip, are you calculating the average speed or the magnitude of the average velocity? Under what circumstances are these two quantities the same?
How are instantaneous velocity and instantaneous speed related to one another? How do they differ?
(a) Calculate Earth’s average speed relative to the Sun. (b) What is its average velocity over a period of one year?
(a) $3\text{.}\text{0}\times {\text{10}}^{4}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{m/s}$
(b) 0 m/s
A helicopter blade spins at exactly 100 revolutions per minute. Its tip is 5.00 m from the center of rotation. (a) Calculate the average speed of the blade tip in the helicopter’s frame of reference. (b) What is its average velocity over one revolution?
The North American and European continents are moving apart at a rate of about 3 cm/y. At this rate how long will it take them to drift 500 km farther apart than they are at present?
$2\times {\text{10}}^{7}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{years}$
The speed of propagation of the action potential (an electrical signal) in a nerve cell depends (inversely) on the diameter of the axon (nerve fiber). If the nerve cell connecting the spinal cord to your feet is 1.1 m long, and the nerve impulse speed is 18 m/s, how long does it take for the nerve signal to travel this distance?
Conversations with astronauts on the lunar surface were characterized by a kind of echo in which the earthbound person’s voice was so loud in the astronaut’s space helmet that it was picked up by the astronaut’s microphone and transmitted back to Earth. It is reasonable to assume that the echo time equals the time necessary for the radio wave to travel from the Earth to the Moon and back (that is, neglecting any time delays in the electronic equipment). Calculate the distance from Earth to the Moon given that the echo time was 2.56 s and that radio waves travel at the speed of light $(3\text{.}\text{00}\times {\text{10}}^{8}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{m/s})$ .
384,000 km
A football quarterback runs 15.0 m straight down the playing field in 2.50 s. He is then hit and pushed 3.00 m straight backward in 1.75 s. He breaks the tackle and runs straight forward another 21.0 m in 5.20 s. Calculate his average velocity (a) for each of the three intervals and (b) for the entire motion.
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