Let us define
**projectile motion** as the motion of a
particle through a region of three-dimensional space where it is subject to
constant acceleration.

For example, an
object moving through the air near the surface of the earth is subject
to the constant gravitational acceleration **g**, directed downward.
If no other forces are acting on the object, i.e. if the object
does not have a propulsion system and we neglect air resistance, then
the motion of the object is projectile motion. (This is the reason
motion with constant acceleration is called projectile motion.)

Assume that we want to describe
the motion of such an object, starting at time t = 0. Let us orient our
coordinate system such that one of the axes, say the y-axis, points
upward. a_{x} = a_{z} = 0, a_{y} = -g. We can
rotate our coordinate system about the y-axis until the velocity vector
of the object at t = 0 lies in the x-y plane, and we can choose the
origin of our coordinate system to be at the position of the object at t
= 0.

With the appropriate orientation of coordinate axes we
can treat projectile motion as motion in **two dimensions** with

v_{x }= v_{0x}, x = x_{0} + v_{0x}t, v_{y}= v_{0y }
+ a_{y}t, y = y_{0} + v_{0y}t
+ ½a_{y}t^{2}.

The position vector
**r** and the velocity
vector **v** at time t have only components along the x- and y-axes. By
choosing a convenient orientation of our coordinate system we have simplified
the mathematics involved in solving a projectile motion problem.

If a_{y} = -g, then
v_{x }= v_{0x}, x = x_{0} + v_{0x}t, v_{y}= v_{0y }
- gt, y = y_{0} + v_{0y}t - ½gt^{2}.

Let a_{y} = -g. If the initial velocity
**v**_{0} makes an angle θ_{0} with the x-axis, then

v_{0x }= v_{0}cosθ_{0} and v_{0y }= v_{0}sinθ_{0}.

v_{x }= v_{0}cosθ_{0 }=
constant, x = x_{0} + v_{0}cosθ_{0}t,

v_{y }= v_{0}sinθ_{0 }- gt, y = y_{0} + v_{0}sinθ_{0}t - ½gt^{2}.

We can solve x - x_{0} = v_{0}cosθ_{0}t for t in terms of x
- x_{0},
t = (x - x_{0})/(v_{0}cosθ_{0})
and substitute this expression for
t into

y = y_{0} + v_{0}sinθ_{0}t - ½gt^{2}.
We obtain

y = y_{0} + (x - x_{0})tan(θ_{0})
- g(x - x_{0})^{2}/(2v_{0}^{2}cos^{2}(θ_{0})),

an equation for the path or **trajectory**
of the object. This equation is of the form y = y_{0}+ a(x - x_{0}) - b(x
- x_{0})^{2},
which is the equation of a parabola. If x_{0} = y_{0}
= 0 the parabola passes
through the origin.

The trajectory for projectile motion is a section of a parabola.

Links:

Horizontally Launched Projectiles

Non-Horizontally Launched Projectiles

Assume a projectile is launched with x_{0} = y_{0} = 0, v_{0x
}= 4 m/s, v_{0y }= 3 m/s.

We have
tanθ_{0 }= v_{0y}/v_{0x }= 3/4, θ_{0 }=
30.87^{o}, v_{0}^{2 }= v_{0x}^{2
}+ v_{0y}^{2},
v_{0} = 5 m/s.

The projectile moves along a parabolic path until it
impacts the ground. Its coordinates as a function of time are

x = (4 m/s)t, y = (3 m/s)t - (4.9 m/s^{2})t^{2}.

Its velocity components are v_{x
}= 4 m/s, v_{y }= (3 m/s) - (9.8 m/s^{2})t^{2}.

t | x(t) | y(t) | v_{x}(t) |
v_{y}(t) |
---|---|---|---|---|

0 | 0 | 0 | 4 | 3 |

0.05 | 0.2 | 0.13775 | 4 | 2.51 |

0.1 | 0.4 | 0.251 | 4 | 2.02 |

0.15 | 0.6 | 0.33975 | 4 | 1.53 |

0.2 | 0.8 | 0.404 | 4 | 1.04 |

0.25 | 1 | 0.44375 | 4 | 0.55 |

0.3 | 1.2 | 0.459 | 4 | 0.06 |

0.35 | 1.4 | 0.44975 | 4 | -0.43 |

0.4 | 1.6 | 0.416 | 4 | -0.92 |

0.45 | 1.8 | 0.35775 | 4 | -1.41 |

0.5 | 2 | 0.275 | 4 | -1.9 |

0.55 | 2.2 | 0.16775 | 4 | -2.39 |

0.6 | 2.4 | 0.036 | 4 | -2.88 |

As we can see from the graphs to the right, the projectile impacts the ground after approximately 0.6 seconds. It reaches its maximum height after approximately 0.3 seconds. Its range is approximately 2.4 meters. In approximately 0.3 seconds it has covered half its range. The trajectory for projectile motion is symmetric about the point of maximum height. The projectile covers the same horizontal distance reaching its maximum height as it does falling from its maximum height back to the ground. It takes the projectile the same amount of time reaching its maximum height as it does to fall from the maximum height back to the ground. When the projectile reaches its maximum height, after approximately 0.3 s, the vertical component of its velocity is zero.

We can find the time when a projectile reaches its maximum height by setting v_{y
}= v_{y0 }- gt = 0 and solving for t. We find

t_{max_height}= v_{y0}/g = v_{0}sinθ_{0}/g.

We can now find the **range**** **R by substituting t = 2t_{max_height} into the
equation for x(t).

R = v_{0}cosθ_{0}2t_{max_height
}= (2v_{0}^{2}cosθ_{0}sinθ_{0})/g =
(v_{0}^{2}sin2θ_{0})/g.

Similarly, we find the
maximum height h by substituting t_{max_height} into the
equation for y(t).

h_{max} = v_{0}sinθ_{0}t_{max_height
}- ½gt^{2}_{max_height
}= (v_{0}^{2}sin^{2}θ_{0})/2g.

Look at the expression for the range, R = (v_{0}^{2}sin2θ_{0})/g. For a given v_{0},
R as a function of the launch angle θ_{0} has its maximum value
when sin2θ_{0} has its maximum value of 1. This happens when 2θ_{0
}= 90^{o}, or θ_{0 }= 45^{o}.

R_{max} = v_{0}^{2}/g is the **maximum range**
of a projectile launched with speed v_{0}.

Link: Maximum Range

One strategy in a snowball fight is to throw a snowball at a high angle over
level ground. While you opponent is watching the first one, you throw a second
snowball at a low angle timed to arrive before or at the same time as the first
one. Assume both snowballs are thrown with a speed of 25 m/s. The first is thrown at an angle of 70^{o} with respect to
the horizontal.

(a) At what angle should the second snowball be thrown to arrive at the same
point as the first?

(b) How many seconds later should the second snowball be thrown after the first
to arrive at the same time?

Solution:

(a) The range of a projectile is R = (v_{0}^{2}sin2θ_{0})/g.

If v_{0} is constant, the range is a function of θ_{0}.

The
function sin2θ_{0} is symmetric about 2θ_{0 }= 90^{o},
or θ_{0 }= 45^{o}.

It has the same value for θ_{0
}= 45^{o }+ θ' as it has for θ_{0 }= 45^{o
}- θ'.

So a snowball thrown with θ_{0 }= 70^{o
}= 45^{o }+ 25^{o} has the same range as a snowball
thrown with θ_{0 }= 45^{o }- 25^{o }= 20^{o}.

The second snowball should be thrown at an angle of 20^{o}.

(b) The time a snowball is in the air is 2t_{max_height }= 2v_{y0}/g
= (2v_{0}sinθ_{0})/g.

The flight time of the first snowball
is 2t_{max_height }= 2v_{0}sin70^{o}/g = 4.79 s.

The flight time of the second snowball is 2t_{max_height
}= 2v_{0}sin20^{o}/g = 1.74 s.

The
second snowball must be thrown 3.05 s after the
first ball.

An astronaut on a strange planet finds that she can jump a maximum
horizontal distance of 15 m if her initial speed is 3 m/s. What is the
free-fall acceleration on the planet?

Solution:

To have maximum range for a given initial velocity, her launch angle must be
θ_{0
}= 45^{o}.

Her range then is R = (v_{0}^{2}sin2θ_{0})/g'
= v_{0}^{2}sin90^{o}/g' = v_{0}^{2}/g'.

We have g' = v_{0}^{2}/R = 0.6 m/s^{2}.

An owl is carrying a mouse to the chicks in its nest. Its
position at t = 0 is 4.0 m west (x_{0} = -4.0 m) and 12.0 m above the
center of the 30.0 cm diameter nest (y_{0} = 12.0 m). The owl is
flying east at 3.5 m/s at an angle 30^{o} below the horizontal, i.e. v_{x0}
= (3.5 m/s)cos(30^{o}), v_{y0} = -(3.5 m/s)sin(30^{o}), when it accidentally drops the mouse.

Is the owl lucky enough to have the mouse hit the nest?

Calculate the horizontal position of the mouse when it has fallen 12.0 m.

Solution

Given: x_{0}, y_{0}, v_{x0} = v_{0}cosθ_{0},
v_{y0} = v_{0}sinθ_{0}, θ_{0} = -30^{o},
a_{y} = -g.

Use v_{x }= v_{0}cosθ_{0 }=
constant, x = x_{0} + v_{0}cosθ_{0}t,
v_{y }= v_{0}sinθ_{0 }- gt,
y = y_{0} + v_{0}sinθ_{0}t - ½gt^{2}.

Solve y - y_{0} = v_{0}sinθ_{0}t - ½gt^{2}
for t, to find the time it takes the mouse to fall 12 m.

(-12 m) = (-3.5 m/s)*0.5*t - 0.5*(9.8 m/s^{2})*t^{2}.

t^{2} + (0.357 s)*t - 2.45 s^{2} = 0,

t = [-0.178 +(0.031 + 2.45)^{½}]s = 1.4 s.

During this time the horizontal position of the mouse changes to x = x_{0} + v_{0}cosθ_{0}t,

x = -4 m * (3.5 m/s)*0.866*(1.4 s) = 0.23 m = 23 cm.

The center of the nest is at x = 0 and the nest has a radius of 15 cm. The
mouse misses the nest.

Two projectiles are thrown with the same magnitude of initial velocity, one
at an angle of θ' with respect to the level ground and the other at an angle 90^{o
}- θ'. Both projectiles will strike the ground at the same distance from
the projection point. Will both projectiles be in the air for the same time
interval?

Solution

When two projectiles are thrown with the same initial speed and they have the
same range, then the one thrown with the smaller launch angle with respect to
the ground has the shorter flight time.

Note: We can denote the two launch angles that have the same range as θ_{0
}= 45^{o }± θ, or as θ_{0 }=
θ' and θ_{0 }= 90^{o }- θ'. The
relationship between θ and θ' is θ +
θ' = 45^{o}.

A ball is projected horizontally from the top of a building. One second later, another ball is projected horizontally from the same point, with the same velocity. At what point in the motion will the balls be closest to each other? Will the first ball always be traveling faster than the second ball? What will be the time difference between when the balls hit the ground? Can the horizontal projection velocity of the second ball be changed, so that the balls arrive at the ground at the same time?

Solution

The horizontal distance between the balls will always be v_{0} times 1
s. After the second ball has been launched at t = 1 s, the vertical
distance (in meters) at time t (measured in seconds) will be ½g(t^{2 }- (t -
1)^{2})= (4.9)(2t - 1). It increases with t, therefore during flight
the balls are closest to each other just after launch. (We do not know where
they were located before they were launched and what happens to them after they
land.) The horizontal component of velocity of both balls is constant. The
vertical component of velocity of ball 1 has magnitude gt and the vertical
component of velocity of ball 2 has magnitude g(t - 1). Since v^{2 }= v_{x}^{2
+ }v_{y}^{2},
ball 1 will always be faster than ball 2. Ball 2 will hit the ground 1 second
after ball 1, independent of the horizontal velocity component. The flight time
of each ball is determined by the vertical distance it must fall, not by the
horizontal velocity component.

Some problems involve the motion of two particles. Often these problems
require that the two particles meet at the same place at the same time. An
often stated problem is the monkey problem.

A monkey is hanging from a branch in a tree, a certain height h above the
ground. A zookeeper stands a distance d from the tree, with a banana in
his hand. The zookeeper knows that the monkey always lets go of the branch
just as the banana is thrown to it. In which direction must the zookeeper
throw the banana, so that the monkey can catch it?

Analysis of the problem:

The position of a projectile as a function of time is given by
**r **= **v**_{0}t
+ ½**g**t^{2}.
We can view the motion of the projectile as a superposition of two motions, a motion with
constant velocity **v**_{0} in the initial direction and a downward motion with
constant acceleration, like the motion of a freely falling particle.
If the projectile is aimed
at the target and fired at t = 0, then motion with constant velocity
**v**_{0}
will bring the projectile to the initial position of the target at some later time t.
In
the time interval between 0 and t the downward motion with constant acceleration carries
the projectile downward by an amount ½gt^{2}. Superimposing the two motions
will bring the projectile at time t to the position of the freely falling target at time
t, independent of the magnitude of v_{0}. In the time interval between
0 and t the freely falling target moves downward by an amount ½gt^{2}.

Ballistic cart
(Youtube)

Ball and cart have the same constant v_{x}. The ball's and the
carts horizontal motions are the same. The ball's vertical motion is
independent of its horizontal motion and does not influence its horizontal
motion.

Shoot the target
(Youtube)

Without gravity, the arrow would hit the original position of the target.
With gravity, arrow and target accelerate downward at the same rate. (Youtube)

Link: Projectile Motion

For more information about projectile motion please study this material from "the Physics Classroom".

- What is a Projectile?
- Characteristics of a Projectile's Trajectory
- Describing Projectiles with Numbers
- Horizontal and Vertical Components of Velocity
- Horizontal and Vertical Components of Displacement

- Initial Velocity Components
- Horizontally Launched Projectiles - Problem-Solving
- Non-Horizontally Launched Projectiles - Problem-Solving