The only way to change the velocity of an object is to apply a force over a period of time.
In some cases, it takes a long time to change the velocity significantly. In these cases, the object seems reluctant to have it’s speed changed.
The tendency of an object to continue in its current state (at rest or in uniform velocity) is called inertia.
All objects have inertia. Whether they are moving or not.
The ratio of force over acceleration is called inertial mass. Inertial mass is a measure of how difficult it is to change the velocity of an object. The inertial mass can be measured using this rearrangement of Newton's second law:
Momentum is a property of moving objects and is useful when analysing collisions.
For example, an elephant has no momentum when it is standing still. When it begins to walk, it will have momentum in the same direction as it is travelling. The faster the elephant walks, the larger its momentum will be.
Momentum can be calculated using the equation:
momentum = mass × velocity
This is when:
A lorry has a mass of 7,500 kg. It travels south at a speed of 25 m/s. Calculate the momentum of the lorry.
= 7,500 × 25
= 187,500 kg m/s (south)
An ice skater has a mass of 60 kg and travels at a speed of 15 m/s. Calculate the momentum of the skater.
= 60 × 15
= 900 kg m/s
In a closed system:
total momentum before an event = total momentum after the event
Conservation of momentum explains why a gun or cannon recoils backwards when it is fired. When a cannon is fired, the cannon ball gains forward momentum and the cannon gains backward momentum. Before the cannon is fired (the 'event'), the total momentum is zero. This is because neither object is moving. The total momentum of the cannon and the cannon ball after being fired is also zero, with the cannon and cannon ball moving in opposite directions.
Collisions are often investigated using small trolleys. The following diagrams show an example.
You can use the principle of conservation of momentum to calculate the velocity of the combined trolleys after the collision.
Calculate the velocity of the trolleys after the collision in the example above.
First calculate the momentum of both trolleys before the collision:
2 kg trolley = 2 × 3 = 6 kg m/s
4 kg trolley = 8 × 0 = 0 kg m/s
Total momentum before collision = 6 + 0 = 6 kg m/s
Total momentum (p) after collision = 6 kg m/s (because momentum is conserved)
Mass ( ) after collision = 10 kg
Next, rearrange to find :
= 6 ÷ 10
= 0.6 m/s
Note that the 2 kg trolley is travelling to the right before the collision. As its velocity and the calculated velocity after the collision are both positive values, the combined trolleys must also be moving to the right after the collision.