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An example illustrating the independence of vertical and horizontal motions is given by two baseballs. One baseball is dropped from rest. At the same instant, another is thrown horizontally from the same height and it follows a curved path. A stroboscope captures the positions of the balls at fixed time intervals as they fall ( [link] ).

Two identical balls are illustrated at 5 locations at equal time intervals. The balls start at the same vertical position. Green arrows represent the horizontal velocities and purple arrows represent the vertical velocities at each position. The ball on the right has an initial horizontal velocity whereas the ball on the left has no horizontal velocity. The horizontal motion is constant horizontal velocity at all times for both balls. The vertical motion is constant vertical acceleration. Each ball’s vertical velocity is increasing in magnitude and pointing down. At each instant in time, both balls have identical vertical positions and vertical velocities.
A diagram of the motions of two identical balls: one falls from rest and the other has an initial horizontal velocity. Each subsequent position is an equal time interval. Arrows represent the horizontal and vertical velocities at each position. The ball on the right has an initial horizontal velocity whereas the ball on the left has no horizontal velocity. Despite the difference in horizontal velocities, the vertical velocities and positions are identical for both balls, which shows the vertical and horizontal motions are independent.

It is remarkable that for each flash of the strobe, the vertical positions of the two balls are the same. This similarity implies vertical motion is independent of whether the ball is moving horizontally. (Assuming no air resistance, the vertical motion of a falling object is influenced by gravity only, not by any horizontal forces.) Careful examination of the ball thrown horizontally shows it travels the same horizontal distance between flashes. This is because there are no additional forces on the ball in the horizontal direction after it is thrown. This result means horizontal velocity is constant and is affected neither by vertical motion nor by gravity (which is vertical). Note this case is true for ideal conditions only. In the real world, air resistance affects the speed of the balls in both directions.

The two-dimensional curved path of the horizontally thrown ball is composed of two independent one-dimensional motions (horizontal and vertical). The key to analyzing such motion, called projectile motion , is to resolve it into motions along perpendicular directions. Resolving two-dimensional motion into perpendicular components is possible because the components are independent.


  • The position function r ( t ) gives the position as a function of time of a particle moving in two or three dimensions. Graphically, it is a vector from the origin of a chosen coordinate system to the point where the particle is located at a specific time.
  • The displacement vector Δ r gives the shortest distance between any two points on the trajectory of a particle in two or three dimensions.
  • Instantaneous velocity gives the speed and direction of a particle at a specific time on its trajectory in two or three dimensions, and is a vector in two and three dimensions.
  • The velocity vector is tangent to the trajectory of the particle.
  • Displacement r ( t ) can be written as a vector sum of the one-dimensional displacements x ( t ) , y ( t ) , z ( t ) along the x , y , and z directions.
  • Velocity v ( t ) can be written as a vector sum of the one-dimensional velocities v x ( t ) , v y ( t ) , v z ( t ) along the x , y , and z directions.
  • Motion in any given direction is independent of motion in a perpendicular direction.

Conceptual questions

What form does the trajectory of a particle have if the distance from any point A to point B is equal to the magnitude of the displacement from A to B ?

straight line

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Give an example of a trajectory in two or three dimensions caused by independent perpendicular motions.

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If the instantaneous velocity is zero, what can be said about the slope of the position function?

The slope must be zero because the velocity vector is tangent to the graph of the position function.

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The coordinates of a particle in a rectangular coordinate system are (1.0, –4.0, 6.0). What is the position vector of the particle?

r = 1.0 i ^ 4.0 j ^ + 6.0 k ^

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The position of a particle changes from r 1 = ( 2.0 i ^ + 3.0 j ^ ) cm to r 2 = ( −4.0 i ^ + 3.0 j ^ ) cm . What is the particle’s displacement?

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The 18th hole at Pebble Beach Golf Course is a dogleg to the left of length 496.0 m. The fairway off the tee is taken to be the x direction. A golfer hits his tee shot a distance of 300.0 m, corresponding to a displacement Δ r 1 = 300.0 m i ^ , and hits his second shot 189.0 m with a displacement Δ r 2 = 172.0 m i ^ + 80.3 m j ^ . What is the final displacement of the golf ball from the tee?

Δ r Total = 472.0 m i ^ + 80.3 m j ^

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A bird flies straight northeast a distance of 95.0 km for 3.0 h. With the x -axis due east and the y -axis due north, what is the displacement in unit vector notation for the bird? What is the average velocity for the trip?

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A cyclist rides 5.0 km due east, then 10.0 km 20 ° west of north. From this point she rides 8.0 km due west. What is the final displacement from where the cyclist started?

Sum of displacements = −6.4 km i ^ + 9.4 km j ^

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New York Rangers defenseman Daniel Girardi stands at the goal and passes a hockey puck 20 m and 45 ° from straight down the ice to left wing Chris Kreider waiting at the blue line. Kreider waits for Girardi to reach the blue line and passes the puck directly across the ice to him 10 m away. What is the final displacement of the puck? See the following figure.

An illustration of the situation described in the problem. The goal and the two ice hockey players are drawn as viewed from above. The goal and Girardi are at the origin of an x y coordinate system. A gray arrow representing 20 meters at 45 degrees from the positive x direction is shown, with Kreider drawn near the tip of the arrow. A blue line, parallel to the x axis, is also drawn at the tip of this arrow. A second gray arrow is shown starting at the Kreider’s location, pointing horizontally to the left, and representing a distance of 10 meters. A dark blue arrow is drawn from the goal at the origin to the tip of the second, 10 meter, gray arrow.
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The position of a particle is r ( t ) = 4.0 t 2 i ^ 3.0 j ^ + 2.0 t 3 k ^ m . (a) What is the velocity of the particle at 0 s and at 1.0 s? (b) What is the average velocity between 0 s and 1.0 s?

a. v ( t ) = 8.0 t i ^ + 6.0 t 2 k ^ , v ( 0 ) = 0 , v ( 1.0 ) = 8.0 i ^ + 6.0 k ^ m/s ,
b. v avg = 4.0 i ^ + 2.0 k ^ m/s

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Clay Matthews, a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, can reach a speed of 10.0 m/s. At the start of a play, Matthews runs downfield at 45 ° with respect to the 50-yard line and covers 8.0 m in 1 s. He then runs straight down the field at 90 ° with respect to the 50-yard line for 12 m, with an elapsed time of 1.2 s. (a) What is Matthews’ final displacement from the start of the play? (b) What is his average velocity?

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The F-35B Lighting II is a short-takeoff and vertical landing fighter jet. If it does a vertical takeoff to 20.00-m height above the ground and then follows a flight path angled at 30 ° with respect to the ground for 20.00 km, what is the final displacement?

Δ r 1 = 20.00 m j ^ , Δ r 2 = ( 2.000 × 10 4 m ) ( cos 30 ° i ^ + sin 30 ° j ^ )
Δ r = 1.700 × 10 4 m i ^ + 1.002 × 10 4 m j ^

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Questions & Answers

is the eye the same like the camera
I can't understand
why is the "_" sign used for a wave to the right instead of to the left?
why classical mechanics is necessary for graduate students?
khyam Reply
classical mechanics?
principle of superposition?
Naveen Reply
principle of superposition allows us to find the electric field on a charge by finding the x and y components
Two Masses,m and 2m,approach each along a path at right angles to each other .After collision,they stick together and move off at 2m/s at angle 37° to the original direction of the mass m. What where the initial speeds of the two particles
2m & m initial velocity 1.8m/s & 4.8m/s respectively,apply conservation of linear momentum in two perpendicular directions.
A body on circular orbit makes an angular displacement given by teta(t)=2(t)+5(t)+5.if time t is in seconds calculate the angular velocity at t=2s
2+5+0=7sec differentiate above equation w.r.t time, as angular velocity is rate of change of angular displacement.
Ok i got a question I'm not asking how gravity works. I would like to know why gravity works. like why is gravity the way it is. What is the true nature of gravity?
Daniel Reply
gravity pulls towards a mass...like every object is pulled towards earth
An automobile traveling with an initial velocity of 25m/s is accelerated to 35m/s in 6s,the wheel of the automobile is 80cm in diameter. find * The angular acceleration
Goodness Reply
(10/6) ÷0.4=4.167 per sec
what is the formula for pressure?
Goodness Reply
force is newtom
and area is meter squared
so in SI units pressure is N/m^2
In customary United States units pressure is lb/in^2. pound per square inch
who is Newton?
John Reply
a scientist
that discovered law of motion
but who is Isaac newton?
a postmodernist would say that he did not discover them, he made them up and they're not actually a reality in itself, but a mere construct by which we decided to observe the word around us
Besides his work on universal gravitation (gravity), Newton developed the 3 laws of motion which form the basic principles of modern physics. His discovery of calculus led the way to more powerful methods of solving mathematical problems. His work in optics included the study of white light and
and the color spectrum
what is a scalar quantity
Peter Reply
scalar: are quantity have numerical value
is that a better way in defining scalar quantity
quantity that has magnitude but no direction
upward force and downward force lift
adegboye Reply
upward force and downward force on lift
Yes what about it?
what's the answer? I can't get it
Rachel Reply
what is the question again?
What's this conversation?
what is catenation? and give examples
How many kilometres in 1 mile
1.609km in 1mile
what's the si unit of impulse
Iguh Reply
The Newton second (N•s)
what is the s. I unit of current
Roland Reply
thanks man
u r welcome
the velocity of a boat related to water is 3i+4j and that of water related to earth is i-3j. what is the velocity of the boat relative to earth.If unit vector i and j represent 1km/hour east and north respectively
Pallavi Reply
what is head to tail rule?
kinza Reply
Explain Head to tail rule?
Practice Key Terms 3

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Source:  OpenStax, University physics volume 1. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col12031/1.5
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