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Projectile Motion

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Projectile Motion


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Learners explore projectile motion as they use a catapult to protect a castle from attack.

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Now You Know

After completing this tutorial, you will be able to complete the following:

  • Define a projectile as an object launched into the air at some angle.
  • Explain that projectile motion is the resultant of two independent velocities, horizontal and vertical.
  • Explain that the maximum range for a projectile will be achieved at a launch angle of 45? to the horizontal.
  • Explain that the greater the angle of launch, the greater the vertical velocity component.
  • Describe the variables in the flight path of projectile motion including: Range (horizontal distance moved), Time (time the projectile is in the air), Initial Velocity of the Projectile, and Angle (the angle of launch of the projectile).

Everything You'll Have Covered

The concept of projectile motion is generally studied as a part of physics. Projectile motion integrates the knowledge of force, motion, energy, and Newton's laws. Projectiles are examples of two-dimensional motion, with a horizontal component and a vertical component. Studying projectiles requires an investigation of the relationship between gravitational acceleration and the projectile's initial velocity.

An object that is launched into the air at some angle is a projectile. Examples of projectiles include a golf tee shot, a thrown or hit baseball, or a bullet shot from a pistol. Gravity and air resistance affect the flight paths of these projectiles. A projectile launched at an angle would continue in a straight line at a constant velocity if gravity were not present. However, gravity makes the projectile accelerate to Earth. This shows us why a projectile launched at an angle follows a parabolic trajectory. This parabolic shape is the result of two types of independent motion, horizontal and vertical.

In the example of a catapult, initial velocity is determined by how much the catapult is stretched. The catapult's potential energy in the stretched rope is then converted to kinetic energy of the projectile. The angle at which the object is launched determines how its velocity is divided between its horizontal and vertical components. The variables to be considered during projectile motion experiments include: range, time, initial velocity, and angle. The range is the horizontal distance the projectile moved. Time is the amount of time that the object is in the air. Angle refers to the angle of launch of the projectile. As the angle of launch is manipulated, it will be discovered that at 45?, the horizontal and vertical components are equal to each other maximizing the range of the projectile. By increasing the launch angle, the vertical component of velocity will go up while the horizontal component decreases. This means that the projectile will stay in the air longer and climb to a greater height.

Tutorial Details

Approximate Time 20 Minutes
Pre-requisite Concepts angle, gravity, velocity
Course Physics
Type of Tutorial Concept Development
Key Vocabulary acceleration, air resistance, angle