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  • Define position, displacement, distance, and distance traveled.
  • Explain the relationship between position and displacement.
  • Distinguish between displacement and distance traveled.
  • Calculate displacement and distance given initial position, final position, and the path between the two.
Three people cycling along a canal. The blurred buildings in the background convey a sense of motion of the cyclists.
These cyclists in Vietnam can be described by their position relative to buildings and a canal. Their motion can be described by their change in position, or displacement, in the frame of reference. (credit: Suzan Black, Fotopedia)

Position

In order to describe the motion of an object, you must first be able to describe its position    —where it is at any particular time. More precisely, you need to specify its position relative to a convenient reference frame. Earth is often used as a reference frame, and we often describe the position of an object as it relates to stationary objects in that reference frame. For example, a rocket launch would be described in terms of the position of the rocket with respect to the Earth as a whole, while a professor’s position could be described in terms of where she is in relation to the nearby white board. (See [link] .) In other cases, we use reference frames that are not stationary but are in motion relative to the Earth. To describe the position of a person in an airplane, for example, we use the airplane, not the Earth, as the reference frame. (See [link] .)

Displacement

If an object moves relative to a reference frame (for example, if a professor moves to the right relative to a white board or a passenger moves toward the rear of an airplane), then the object’s position changes. This change in position is known as displacement    . The word “displacement” implies that an object has moved, or has been displaced.

Displacement

Displacement is the change in position of an object:

Δ x = x f x 0 , size 12{Δx=x rSub { size 8{f} } - x rSub { size 8{0} } } {}

where Δ x size 12{Δx} {} is displacement, x f size 12{x rSub { size 8{f} } } {} is the final position, and x 0 size 12{x rSub { size 8{0} } } {} is the initial position.

In this text the upper case Greek letter Δ size 12{Δ} {} (delta) always means “change in” whatever quantity follows it; thus, Δ x size 12{Δx} {} means change in position . Always solve for displacement by subtracting initial position x 0 size 12{x rSub { size 8{0} } } {} from final position x f size 12{x rSub { size 8{f} } } {} .

Note that the SI unit for displacement is the meter (m) (see Physical Quantities and Units ), but sometimes kilometers, miles, feet, and other units of length are used. Keep in mind that when units other than the meter are used in a problem, you may need to convert them into meters to complete the calculation.

The initial and final position of a professor as she moves to the right while writing on a whiteboard. Her initial position is 1 point 5 meters. Her final position is 3 point 5 meters. Her displacement is given by the equation delta x equals x sub f minus x sub 0 equals 2 point 0 meters.
A professor paces left and right while lecturing. Her position relative to Earth is given by x size 12{x} {} . The + 2 . 0 m size 12{+2 "." 0`m} {} displacement of the professor relative to Earth is represented by an arrow pointing to the right.

View of an airplane with an inset of the passengers sitting inside. A passenger has just moved from his seat and is now standing in the back. His initial position was 6 point 0 meters. His final position is 2 point 0 meters. His displacement is given by the equation delta x equals x sub f minus x sub 0 equals 4 point zero meters.
A passenger moves from his seat to the back of the plane. His location relative to the airplane is given by x size 12{x} {} . The 4 . 0 -m size 12{ - 4 "." 0"-m"} {} displacement of the passenger relative to the plane is represented by an arrow toward the rear of the plane. Notice that the arrow representing his displacement is twice as long as the arrow representing the displacement of the professor (he moves twice as far) in [link] .

Questions & Answers

state Faraday first law
aliyu Reply
what does the speedometer of a car measure ?
Jyoti Reply
Car speedometer measures the rate of change of distance per unit time.
Moses
describe how a Michelson interferometer can be used to measure the index of refraction of a gas (including air)
WILLIAM Reply
using the law of reflection explain how powder takes the shine off a person's nose. what is the name of the optical effect?
WILLIAM
is higher resolution of microscope using red or blue light?.explain
WILLIAM
can sound wave in air be polarized?
WILLIAM Reply
Unlike transverse waves such as electromagnetic waves, longitudinal waves such as sound waves cannot be polarized. ... Since sound waves vibrate along their direction of propagation, they cannot be polarized
Astronomy
A proton moves at 7.50×107m/s perpendicular to a magnetic field. The field causes the proton to travel in a circular path of radius 0.800 m. What is the field strength?
Celedonio Reply
derived dimenionsal formula
Ajak Reply
what is the difference between mass and weight
Isru Reply
assume that a boy was born when his father was eighteen years.if the boy is thirteen years old now, how is his father in
Isru
what is head-on collision
Javaid Reply
what is airflow
Godswill Reply
derivative of first differential equation
Haruna Reply
why static friction is greater than Kinetic friction
Ali Reply
draw magnetic field pattern for two wire carrying current in the same direction
Ven Reply
An American traveler in New Zealand carries a transformer to convert New Zealand’s standard 240 V to 120 V so that she can use some small appliances on her trip.
nkombo Reply
What is the ratio of turns in the primary and secondary coils of her transformer?
nkombo
what is energy
Yusuf
How electric lines and equipotential surface are mutually perpendicular?
Abid Reply
The potential difference between any two points on the surface is zero that implies È.Ŕ=0, Where R is the distance between two different points &E= Electric field intensity. From which we have cos þ =0, where þ is the angle between the directions of field and distance line, as E andR are zero. Thus
MAHADEV
sorry..E and R are non zero...
MAHADEV
By how much leeway (both percentage and mass) would you have in the selection of the mass of the object in the previous problem if you did not wish the new period to be greater than 2.01 s or less than 1.99 s?
Elene Reply
hello
Chichi
Hi
Matthew
hello
Sujan
Hi I'm Matthew, and the answer is Lee weighs in mass 0.008kg OR 0.009kg
Matthew
14 year old answers college physics and the crowd goes wild!
Matthew
Hlo
spread
Practice Key Terms 5

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Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
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