The velocity of an object is the rate of change of its position with respect to a frame of reference, and is a function of time. Velocity is equivalent to a specification of an object's speed and direction of motion (e.g. 60 km/h to the north). Velocity is a fundamental concept in kinematics, the branch of classical mechanics that describes the motion of bodies.

Velocity is a physical vector quantity; both magnitude and direction are needed to define it. The scalar absolute value (magnitude) of velocity is called speed, being a coherent derived unit whose quantity is measured in the SI (metric system) as metres per second (m/s) or as the SI base unit of (m⋅s−1). For example, "5 metres per second" is a scalar, whereas "5 metres per second east" is a vector. If there is a change in speed, direction or both, then the object has a changing velocity and is said to be undergoing an acceleration.

US Navy 040501-N-1336S-037 The U.S. Navy sponsored Chevy Monte Carlo NASCAR leads a pack into turn four at California Speedway
As a change of direction occurs while the racing cars turn on the curved track, their velocity is not constant.
Common symbols
v, v, v
Other units
mph, ft/s
In SI base unitsm/s
DimensionL T−1

Constant velocity vs acceleration

To have a constant velocity, an object must have a constant speed in a constant direction. Constant direction constrains the object to motion in a straight path thus, a constant velocity means motion in a straight line at a constant speed.

For example, a car moving at a constant 20 kilometres per hour in a circular path has a constant speed, but does not have a constant velocity because its direction changes. Hence, the car is considered to be undergoing an acceleration.

Distinction between speed and velocity

Kinematic quantities of a classical particle: mass m, position r, velocity v, acceleration a.

Speed describes only how fast an object is moving, whereas velocity gives both how fast it is and in which direction the object is moving.[1] If a car is said to travel at 60 km/h, its speed has been specified. However, if the car is said to move at 60 km/h to the north, its velocity has now been specified.

The big difference can be noticed when we consider movement around a circle. When something moves in a circular path (at a constant speed, see above) and returns to its starting point, its average velocity is zero but its average speed is found by dividing the circumference of the circle by the time taken to move around the circle. This is because the average velocity is calculated by only considering the displacement between the starting and the end points while the average speed considers only the total distance traveled.

Equation of motion

Average velocity

Velocity is defined as the rate of change of position with respect to time, which may also be referred to as the instantaneous velocity to emphasize the distinction from the average velocity. In some applications the "average velocity" of an object might be needed, that is to say, the constant velocity that would provide the same resultant displacement as a variable velocity in the same time interval, v(t), over some time period Δt. Average velocity can be calculated as:

The average velocity is always less than or equal to the average speed of an object. This can be seen by realizing that while distance is always strictly increasing, displacement can increase or decrease in magnitude as well as change direction.

In terms of a displacement-time (x vs. t) graph, the instantaneous velocity (or, simply, velocity) can be thought of as the slope of the tangent line to the curve at any point, and the average velocity as the slope of the secant line between two points with t coordinates equal to the boundaries of the time period for the average velocity.

The average velocity is the same as the velocity averaged over time – that is to say, its time-weighted average, which may be calculated as the time integral of the velocity:

where we may identify


Instantaneous velocity

Velocity vs time graph
Example of a velocity vs. time graph, and the relationship between velocity v on the y-axis, acceleration a (the three green tangent lines represent the values for acceleration at different points along the curve) and displacement s (the yellow area under the curve.)

If we consider v as velocity and x as the displacement (change in position) vector, then we can express the (instantaneous) velocity of a particle or object, at any particular time t, as the derivative of the position with respect to time:

From this derivative equation, in the one-dimensional case it can be seen that the area under a velocity vs. time (v vs. t graph) is the displacement, x. In calculus terms, the integral of the velocity function v(t) is the displacement function x(t). In the figure, this corresponds to the yellow area under the curve labeled s (s being an alternative notation for displacement).

Since the derivative of the position with respect to time gives the change in position (in metres) divided by the change in time (in seconds), velocity is measured in metres per second (m/s). Although the concept of an instantaneous velocity might at first seem counter-intuitive, it may be thought of as the velocity that the object would continue to travel at if it stopped accelerating at that moment.

Relationship to acceleration

Although velocity is defined as the rate of change of position, it is often common to start with an expression for an object's acceleration. As seen by the three green tangent lines in the figure, an object's instantaneous acceleration at a point in time is the slope of the line tangent to the curve of a v(t) graph at that point. In other words, acceleration is defined as the derivative of velocity with respect to time:

From there, we can obtain an expression for velocity as the area under an a(t) acceleration vs. time graph. As above, this is done using the concept of the integral:

Constant acceleration

In the special case of constant acceleration, velocity can be studied using the suvat equations. By considering a as being equal to some arbitrary constant vector, it is trivial to show that

with v as the velocity at time t and u as the velocity at time t = 0. By combining this equation with the suvat equation x = ut + at2/2, it is possible to relate the displacement and the average velocity by


It is also possible to derive an expression for the velocity independent of time, known as the Torricelli equation, as follows:

where v = |v| etc.

The above equations are valid for both Newtonian mechanics and special relativity. Where Newtonian mechanics and special relativity differ is in how different observers would describe the same situation. In particular, in Newtonian mechanics, all observers agree on the value of t and the transformation rules for position create a situation in which all non-accelerating observers would describe the acceleration of an object with the same values. Neither is true for special relativity. In other words, only relative velocity can be calculated.

Quantities that are dependent on velocity

The kinetic energy of a moving object is dependent on its velocity and is given by the equation

ignoring special relativity, where Ek is the kinetic energy and m is the mass. Kinetic energy is a scalar quantity as it depends on the square of the velocity, however a related quantity, momentum, is a vector and defined by

In special relativity, the dimensionless Lorentz factor appears frequently, and is given by

where γ is the Lorentz factor and c is the speed of light.

Escape velocity is the minimum speed a ballistic object needs to escape from a massive body such as Earth. It represents the kinetic energy that, when added to the object's gravitational potential energy, (which is always negative) is equal to zero. The general formula for the escape velocity of an object at a distance r from the center of a planet with mass M is

where G is the Gravitational constant and g is the Gravitational acceleration. The escape velocity from Earth's surface is about 11 200 m/s, and is irrespective of the direction of the object. This makes "escape velocity" somewhat of a misnomer, as the more correct term would be "escape speed": any object attaining a velocity of that magnitude, irrespective of atmosphere, will leave the vicinity of the base body as long as it doesn't intersect with something in its path.

Relative velocity

Relative velocity is a measurement of velocity between two objects as determined in a single coordinate system. Relative velocity is fundamental in both classical and modern physics, since many systems in physics deal with the relative motion of two or more particles. In Newtonian mechanics, the relative velocity is independent of the chosen inertial reference frame. This is not the case anymore with special relativity in which velocities depend on the choice of reference frame.

If an object A is moving with velocity vector v and an object B with velocity vector w, then the velocity of object A relative to object B is defined as the difference of the two velocity vectors:

Similarly, the relative velocity of object B moving with velocity w, relative to object A moving with velocity v is:

Usually, the inertial frame chosen is that in which the latter of the two mentioned objects is in rest.

Scalar velocities

In the one-dimensional case,[2] the velocities are scalars and the equation is either:

, if the two objects are moving in opposite directions, or:
, if the two objects are moving in the same direction.

Polar coordinates

In polar coordinates, a two-dimensional velocity is described by a radial velocity, defined as the component of velocity away from or toward the origin (also known as velocity made good), and an angular velocity, which is the rate of rotation about the origin (with positive quantities representing counter-clockwise rotation and negative quantities representing clockwise rotation, in a right-handed coordinate system).

The radial and angular velocities can be derived from the Cartesian velocity and displacement vectors by decomposing the velocity vector into radial and transverse components. The transverse velocity is the component of velocity along a circle centered at the origin.


is the transverse velocity
is the radial velocity.

The magnitude of the radial velocity is the dot product of the velocity vector and the unit vector in the direction of the displacement.


is displacement.

The magnitude of the transverse velocity is that of the cross product of the unit vector in the direction of the displacement and the velocity vector. It is also the product of the angular speed and the magnitude of the displacement.

such that

Angular momentum in scalar form is the mass times the distance to the origin times the transverse velocity, or equivalently, the mass times the distance squared times the angular speed. The sign convention for angular momentum is the same as that for angular velocity.


is mass

The expression is known as moment of inertia. If forces are in the radial direction only with an inverse square dependence, as in the case of a gravitational orbit, angular momentum is constant, and transverse speed is inversely proportional to the distance, angular speed is inversely proportional to the distance squared, and the rate at which area is swept out is constant. These relations are known as Kepler's laws of planetary motion.

See also


  1. ^ Wilson, Edwin Bidwell (1901). Vector analysis: a text-book for the use of students of mathematics and physics, founded upon the lectures of J. Willard Gibbs. p. 125. This is the likely origin of the speed/velocity terminology in vector physics.
  2. ^ Basic principle


  • Robert Resnick and Jearl Walker, Fundamentals of Physics, Wiley; 7 Sub edition (June 16, 2004). ISBN 0-471-23231-9.

External links

.22 Long Rifle

The .22 Long Rifle or simply .22 LR (metric designation: 5.6×15mmR) is a long-established variety of .22 caliber rimfire ammunition, and in terms of units sold is still by far the most common ammunition in the world today. It is used in a wide range of rifles, pistols, revolvers, smoothbore shotguns (No. 1 bore), and even submachine guns.


In physics, acceleration is the rate of change of velocity of an object with respect to time. An object's acceleration is the net result of all forces acting on the object, as described by Newton's Second Law. The SI unit for acceleration is metre per second squared (m⋅s−2). Accelerations are vector quantities (they have magnitude and direction) and add according to the parallelogram law. The vector of the net force acting on a body has the same direction as the vector of the body's acceleration, and its magnitude is proportional to the magnitude of the acceleration, with the object's mass (a scalar quantity) as proportionality constant.

For example, when a car starts from a standstill (zero velocity, in an inertial frame of reference) and travels in a straight line at increasing speeds, it is accelerating in the direction of travel. If the car turns, an acceleration occurs toward the new direction. The forward acceleration of the car is called a linear (or tangential) acceleration, the reaction to which passengers in the car experience as a force pushing them back into their seats. When changing direction, this is called radial (as orthogonal to tangential) acceleration, the reaction to which passengers experience as a sideways force. If the speed of the car decreases, this is an acceleration in the opposite direction of the velocity of the vehicle, sometimes called deceleration. Passengers experience the reaction to deceleration as a force pushing them forwards. Both acceleration and deceleration are treated the same, they are both changes in velocity. Each of these accelerations (tangential, radial, deceleration) is felt by passengers until their velocity (speed and direction) matches that of the uniformly moving car.

Angular velocity

In physics, angular velocity refers to how fast an object rotates or revolves relative to another point, i.e. how fast the angular position or orientation of an object changes with time. There are two types of angular velocity: orbital angular velocity and spin angular velocity. Spin angular velocity refers to how fast an object rotates with respect to its geometric centre. Orbital angular velocity refers to how fast the geometric center of an object revolves about a chosen origin, i.e. the time rate of change of its angular displacement relative to the origin. In general, angular velocity is measured in angle per unit time, radians per second in SI units, and is usually represented by the symbol omega (ω, sometimes Ω). By convention, positive angular velocity indicates counter-clockwise rotation, while negative is clockwise.

For example, a geostationary satellite completes one orbit per day above the equator, or 360 degrees per 24 hours, and has angular velocity ω = 360 / 24 = 15 degrees per hour, or 2π / 24 ≈ 0.26 radians per hour. If angle is measured in radians, the linear velocity is the radius times the angular velocity, . With orbital radius 42,000 km from the earth's center, the satellite's speed through space is thus v = 42,000 × 0.26 ≈ 11,000 km/hr. The angular velocity is positive since the satellite travels eastward with the Earth's rotation (counter-clockwise from above the north pole.)

In three dimensions, angular velocity is a pseudovector, with its magnitude measuring the rate at which an object rotates or revolves, and its direction pointing perpendicular to the plane of rotation or angular displacement. The orientation of angular velocity is conventionally specified by the right-hand rule.

Discharge (hydrology)

In hydrology, discharge is the volumetric flow rate of water that is transported through a given cross-sectional area. It includes any suspended solids (e.g. sediment), dissolved chemicals (e.g. CaCO3(aq)), or biologic material (e.g. diatoms) in addition to the water itself.

Synonyms vary by discipline. For example, a fluvial hydrologist studying natural river systems may define discharge as streamflow, whereas an engineer operating a reservoir system might define discharge as outflow, which is contrasted with inflow.

Doppler effect

The Doppler effect (or the Doppler shift) is the change in frequency or wavelength of a wave in relation to an observer who is moving relative to the wave source. It is named after the Austrian physicist Christian Doppler, who described the phenomenon in 1842.

A common example of Doppler shift is the change of pitch heard when a vehicle sounding a horn approaches and recedes from an observer. Compared to the emitted frequency, the received frequency is higher during the approach, identical at the instant of passing by, and lower during the recession.The reason for the Doppler effect is that when the source of the waves is moving towards the observer, each successive wave crest is emitted from a position closer to the observer than the previous wave. Therefore, each wave takes slightly less time to reach the observer than the previous wave. Hence, the time between the arrival of successive wave crests at the observer is reduced, causing an increase in the frequency. While they are traveling, the distance between successive wave fronts is reduced, so the waves "bunch together". Conversely, if the source of waves is moving away from the observer, each wave is emitted from a position farther from the observer than the previous wave, so the arrival time between successive waves is increased, reducing the frequency. The distance between successive wave fronts is then increased, so the waves "spread out".

For waves that propagate in a medium, such as sound waves, the velocity of the observer and of the source are relative to the medium in which the waves are transmitted. The total Doppler effect may therefore result from motion of the source, motion of the observer, or motion of the medium. Each of these effects is analyzed separately. For waves which do not require a medium, such as light or gravity in general relativity, only the relative difference in velocity between the observer and the source needs to be considered.

Drag (physics)

In fluid dynamics, drag (sometimes called air resistance, a type of friction, or fluid resistance, another type of friction or fluid friction) is a force acting opposite to the relative motion of any object moving with respect to a surrounding fluid. This can exist between two fluid layers (or surfaces) or a fluid and a solid surface. Unlike other resistive forces, such as dry friction, which are nearly independent of velocity, drag forces depend on velocity.

Drag force is proportional to the velocity for a laminar flow and the squared velocity for a turbulent flow. Even though the ultimate cause of a drag is viscous friction, the turbulent drag is independent of viscosity.Drag forces always decrease fluid velocity relative to the solid object in the fluid's path.

Escape velocity

In physics (specifically, celestial mechanics), escape velocity is the minimum speed needed for a free object to escape from the gravitational influence of a massive body. It is slower the further away from the body an object is, and slower for less massive bodies.

The escape velocity from Earth is about 11.186 km/s (6.951 mi/s; 40,270 km/h; 36,700 ft/s; 25,020 mph; 21,744 kn) at the surface. More generally, escape velocity is the speed at which the sum of an object's kinetic energy and its gravitational potential energy is equal to zero; an object which has achieved escape velocity is neither on the surface, nor in a closed orbit (of any radius). With escape velocity in a direction pointing away from the ground of a massive body, the object will move away from the body, slowing forever and approaching, but never reaching, zero speed. Once escape velocity is achieved, no further impulse need be applied for it to continue in its escape. In other words, if given escape velocity, the object will move away from the other body, continually slowing, and will asymptotically approach zero speed as the object's distance approaches infinity, never to come back. Speeds higher than escape velocity have a positive speed at infinity. Note that the minimum escape velocity assumes that there is no friction (e.g., atmospheric drag), which would increase the required instantaneous velocity to escape the gravitational influence, and that there will be no future acceleration or deceleration (for example from thrust or gravity from other objects), which would change the required instantaneous velocity.

For a spherically symmetric, massive body such as a star, or planet, the escape velocity for that body, at a given distance, is calculated by the formula

where G is the universal gravitational constant (G ≈ 6.67×10−11 m3·kg−1·s−2), M the mass of the body to be escaped from, and r the distance from the center of mass of the body to the object. The relationship is independent of the mass of the object escaping the massive body. Conversely, a body that falls under the force of gravitational attraction of mass M, from infinity, starting with zero velocity, will strike the massive object with a velocity equal to its escape velocity given by the same formula.

When given an initial speed greater than the escape speed the object will asymptotically approach the hyperbolic excess speed satisfying the equation:

In these equations atmospheric friction (air drag) is not taken into account. A rocket moving out of a gravity well does not actually need to attain escape velocity to escape, but could achieve the same result (escape) at any speed with a suitable mode of propulsion and sufficient propellant to provide the accelerating force on the object to escape. Escape velocity is only required to send a ballistic object on a trajectory that will allow the object to escape the gravity well of the mass M.

Fluid dynamics

In physics and engineering, fluid dynamics is a subdiscipline of fluid mechanics that describes the flow of fluids—liquids and gases. It has several subdisciplines, including aerodynamics (the study of air and other gases in motion) and hydrodynamics (the study of liquids in motion). Fluid dynamics has a wide range of applications, including calculating forces and moments on aircraft, determining the mass flow rate of petroleum through pipelines, predicting weather patterns, understanding nebulae in interstellar space and modelling fission weapon detonation,

Fluid dynamics offers a systematic structure—which underlies these practical disciplines—that embraces empirical and semi-empirical laws derived from flow measurement and used to solve practical problems. The solution to a fluid dynamics problem typically involves the calculation of various properties of the fluid, such as flow velocity, pressure, density, and temperature, as functions of space and time.

Before the twentieth century, hydrodynamics was synonymous with fluid dynamics. This is still reflected in names of some fluid dynamics topics, like magnetohydrodynamics and hydrodynamic stability, both of which can also be applied to gases.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a 1975 British independent comedy film concerning the Arthurian legend, written and performed by the Monty Python comedy group of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, and directed by Gilliam and Jones. It was conceived during the hiatus between the third and fourth series of their BBC television series Monty Python's Flying Circus.

In contrast to the group's first film, And Now for Something Completely Different, a compilation of sketches from the first two television series, Holy Grail draws on new material, parodying the legend of King Arthur's quest for the Holy Grail. 30 years later, Idle used the film as the basis for the musical Spamalot.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail grossed more than any British film exhibited in the US in 1975. In the US, it was selected as the second best comedy of all time in the ABC special Best in Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time. In the UK, readers of Total Film magazine ranked it the fifth greatest comedy film of all time; a similar poll of Channel 4 viewers placed it sixth (2000).

Muzzle velocity

Muzzle velocity is the speed of a projectile at the moment it leaves the muzzle of a gun. Muzzle velocities range from approximately 120 m/s (390 ft/s) to 370 m/s (1,200 ft/s) in black powder muskets, to more than 1,200 m/s (3,900 ft/s) in modern rifles with high-performance cartridges such as the .220 Swift and .204 Ruger, all the way to 1,700 m/s (5,600 ft/s) for tank guns firing kinetic energy penetrator ammunition. To simulate orbital debris impacts on spacecraft, NASA launches projectiles through light-gas guns at speeds up to 8,500 m/s (28,000 ft/s).

Navier–Stokes equations

In physics, the Navier–Stokes equations (/nævˈjeɪ stoʊks/), named after Claude-Louis Navier and George Gabriel Stokes, describe the motion of viscous fluid substances.

These balance equations arise from applying Isaac Newton's second law to fluid motion, together with the assumption that the stress in the fluid is the sum of a diffusing viscous term (proportional to the gradient of velocity) and a pressure term—hence describing viscous flow. The main difference between them and the simpler Euler equations for inviscid flow is that Navier–Stokes equations also factor in the Froude limit (no external field) and are not conservation equations, but rather a dissipative system, in the sense that they cannot be put into the quasilinear homogeneous form:

Navier–Stokes equations are useful because they describe the physics of many phenomena of scientific and engineering interest. They may be used to model the weather, ocean currents, water flow in a pipe and air flow around a wing. The Navier–Stokes equations, in their full and simplified forms, help with the design of aircraft and cars, the study of blood flow, the design of power stations, the analysis of pollution, and many other things. Coupled with Maxwell's equations, they can be used to model and study magnetohydrodynamics.

The Navier–Stokes equations are also of great interest in a purely mathematical sense. Despite their wide range of practical uses, it has not yet been proven whether solutions always exist in three dimensions and, if they do exist, whether they are smooth – i.e. they are infinitely differentiable at all points in the domain. These are called the Navier–Stokes existence and smoothness problems. The Clay Mathematics Institute has called this one of the seven most important open problems in mathematics and has offered a US$1 million prize for a solution or a counterexample.

Power (physics)

In physics, power is the rate of doing work or of transferring heat, i.e. the amount of energy transferred or converted per unit time. Having no direction, it is a scalar quantity. In the International System of Units, the unit of power is the joule per second (J/s), known as the watt in honour of James Watt, the eighteenth-century developer of the condenser steam engine. Another common and traditional measure is horsepower (comparing to the power of a horse). Being the rate of work, the equation for power can be written:

As a physical concept, power requires both a change in the physical system and a specified time in which the change occurs. This is distinct from the concept of work, which is only measured in terms of a net change in the state of the physical system. The same amount of work is done when carrying a load up a flight of stairs whether the person carrying it walks or runs, but more power is needed for running because the work is done in a shorter amount of time.

The output power of an electric motor is the product of the torque that the motor generates and the angular velocity of its output shaft. The power involved in moving a vehicle is the product of the traction force of the wheels and the velocity of the vehicle. The rate at which a light bulb converts electrical energy into light and heat is measured in watts—the higher the wattage, the more power, or equivalently the more electrical energy is used per unit time.

Radial velocity

The radial velocity of an object with respect to a given point is the rate of change of the distance between the object and the point. That is, the radial velocity is the component of the object's velocity that points in the direction of the radius connecting the object and the point. In astronomy, the point is usually taken to be the observer on Earth, so the radial velocity then denotes the speed with which the object moves away from or approaches the Earth.

In astronomy, radial velocity is often measured to the first order of approximation by Doppler spectroscopy. The quantity obtained by this method may be called the barycentric radial-velocity measure or spectroscopic radial velocity. However, due to relativistic and cosmological effects over the great distances that light typically travels to reach the observer from an astronomical object, this measure cannot be accurately transformed to a geometric radial velocity without additional assumptions about the object and the space between it and the observer. By contrast, astrometric radial velocity is determined by astrometric observations (for example, a secular change in the annual parallax).

Specific impulse

Specific impulse (usually abbreviated Isp) is a measure of how effectively a rocket uses propellant or a jet engine uses fuel. By definition, it is the total impulse (or change in momentum) delivered per unit of propellant consumed and is dimensionally equivalent to the generated thrust divided by the propellant mass flow rate or weight flow rate. If mass (kilogram, pound-mass, or slug) is used as the unit of propellant, then specific impulse has units of velocity. If weight (newton or pound-force) is used instead, then specific impulse has units of time (seconds). Multiplying flow rate by the standard gravity (g0) converts specific impulse from the mass basis to the weight basis.A propulsion system with a higher specific impulse uses the mass of the propellant more effectively in creating forward thrust and, in the case of a rocket, less propellant needed for a given delta-v, per the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation. In rockets, this means the engine is more effective at gaining altitude, distance, and velocity. This effectiveness is less important in jet engines that employ wings and use outside air for combustion and carry payloads that are much heavier than the propellant.

Specific impulse includes the contribution to impulse provided by external air that has been used for combustion and is exhausted with the spent propellant. Jet engines use outside air, and therefore have a much higher specific impulse than rocket engines. The specific impulse in terms of propellant mass spent has units of distance per time, which is a notional velocity called the effective exhaust velocity. This is higher than the actual exhaust velocity because the mass of the combustion air is not being accounted for. Actual and effective exhaust velocity are the same in rocket engines not utilizing air or other intake propellant such as water.

Specific impulse is inversely proportional to specific fuel consumption (SFC) by the relationship Isp = 1/(go·SFC) for SFC in kg/(N·s) and Isp = 3600/SFC for SFC in lb/(lbf·hr).


In everyday use and in kinematics, the speed of an object is the magnitude of its velocity (the rate of change of its position); it is thus a scalar quantity. The average speed of an object in an interval of time is the distance travelled by the object divided by the duration of the interval; the instantaneous speed is the limit of the average speed as the duration of the time interval approaches zero.

Speed has the dimensions of distance divided by time. The SI unit of speed is the metre per second, but the most common unit of speed in everyday usage is the kilometre per hour or, in the US and the UK, miles per hour. For air and marine travel the knot is commonly used.

The fastest possible speed at which energy or information can travel, according to special relativity, is the speed of light in a vacuum c = 299792458 metres per second (approximately 1079000000 km/h or 671000000 mph). Matter cannot quite reach the speed of light, as this would require an infinite amount of energy. In relativity physics, the concept of rapidity replaces the classical idea of speed.

Speed of light

The speed of light in vacuum, commonly denoted c, is a universal physical constant important in many areas of physics. Its exact value is 299,792,458 metres per second (approximately 300,000 km/s (186,000 mi/s)). It is exact because by international agreement a metre is defined as the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299792458 second. According to special relativity, c is the maximum speed at which all conventional matter and hence all known forms of information in the universe can travel. Though this speed is most commonly associated with light, it is in fact the speed at which all massless particles and changes of the associated fields travel in vacuum (including electromagnetic radiation and gravitational waves). Such particles and waves travel at c regardless of the motion of the source or the inertial reference frame of the observer. In the special and general theories of relativity, c interrelates space and time, and also appears in the famous equation of mass–energy equivalence E = mc2.The speed at which light propagates through transparent materials, such as glass or air, is less than c; similarly, the speed of electromagnetic waves in wire cables is slower than c. The ratio between c and the speed v at which light travels in a material is called the refractive index n of the material (n = c / v). For example, for visible light the refractive index of glass is typically around 1.5, meaning that light in glass travels at c / 1.5 ≈ 200,000 km/s (124,000 mi/s); the refractive index of air for visible light is about 1.0003, so the speed of light in air is about 299,700 km/s (186,220 mi/s), which is about 90 km/s (56 mi/s) slower than c.

For many practical purposes, light and other electromagnetic waves will appear to propagate instantaneously, but for long distances and very sensitive measurements, their finite speed has noticeable effects. In communicating with distant space probes, it can take minutes to hours for a message to get from Earth to the spacecraft, or vice versa. The light seen from stars left them many years ago, allowing the study of the history of the universe by looking at distant objects. The finite speed of light also limits the theoretical maximum speed of computers, since information must be sent within the computer from chip to chip. The speed of light can be used with time of flight measurements to measure large distances to high precision.

Ole Rømer first demonstrated in 1676 that light travels at a finite speed (as opposed to instantaneously) by studying the apparent motion of Jupiter's moon Io. In 1865, James Clerk Maxwell proposed that light was an electromagnetic wave, and therefore travelled at the speed c appearing in his theory of electromagnetism. In 1905, Albert Einstein postulated that the speed of light c with respect to any inertial frame is a constant and is independent of the motion of the light source. He explored the consequences of that postulate by deriving the theory of relativity and in doing so showed that the parameter c had relevance outside of the context of light and electromagnetism.

After centuries of increasingly precise measurements, in 1975 the speed of light was known to be 299792458 m/s (983571056 ft/s; 186282.397 mi/s) with a measurement uncertainty of 4 parts per billion. In 1983, the metre was redefined in the International System of Units (SI) as the distance travelled by light in vacuum in 1/299792458 of a second.

Speed of sound

The speed of sound is the distance travelled per unit time by a sound wave as it propagates through an elastic medium. At 20 °C (68 °F), the speed of sound in air is about 343 meters per second (1,234.8 km/h; 1,125 ft/s; 767 mph; 667 kn), or a kilometre in 2.9 s or a mile in 4.7 s. It depends strongly on temperature, but also varies by several meters per second, depending on which gases exist in the medium through which a soundwave is propagating.

The speed of sound in an ideal gas depends only on its temperature and composition. The speed has a weak dependence on frequency and pressure in ordinary air, deviating slightly from ideal behavior.

In common everyday speech, speed of sound refers to the speed of sound waves in air. However, the speed of sound varies from substance to substance: sound travels most slowly in gases; it travels faster in liquids; and faster still in solids. For example, (as noted above), sound travels at 343 m/s in air; it travels at 1,480 m/s in water (4.3 times as fast as in air); and at 5,120 m/s in iron (about 15 times as fast as in air). In an exceptionally stiff material such as diamond, sound travels at 12,000 metres per second (27,000 mph); (about 35 times as fast as in air) which is around the maximum speed that sound will travel under normal conditions.

Sound waves in solids are composed of compression waves (just as in gases and liquids), and a different type of sound wave called a shear wave, which occurs only in solids. Shear waves in solids usually travel at different speeds, as exhibited in seismology. The speed of compression waves in solids is determined by the medium's compressibility, shear modulus and density. The speed of shear waves is determined only by the solid material's shear modulus and density.

In fluid dynamics, the speed of sound in a fluid medium (gas or liquid) is used as a relative measure for the speed of an object moving through the medium. The ratio of the speed of an object to the speed of sound in the fluid is called the object's Mach number. Objects moving at speeds greater than Mach1 are said to be traveling at supersonic speeds.

Terminal velocity

Terminal velocity is the highest velocity attainable by an object as it falls through a fluid (air is the most common example). It occurs when the sum of the drag force (Fd) and the buoyancy is equal to the downward force of gravity (FG) acting on the object. Since the net force on the object is zero, the object has zero acceleration.In fluid dynamics, an object is moving at its terminal velocity if its speed is constant due to the restraining force exerted by the fluid through which it is moving .

As the speed of an object increases, so does the drag force acting on it, which also depends on the substance it is passing through (for example air or water). At some speed, the drag or force of resistance will equal the gravitational pull on the object (buoyancy is considered below). At this point the object ceases to accelerate and continues falling at a constant speed called the terminal velocity (also called settling velocity). An object moving downward faster than the terminal velocity (for example because it was thrown downwards, it fell from a thinner part of the atmosphere, or it changed shape) will slow down until it reaches the terminal velocity. Drag depends on the projected area, here, the object's cross-section or silhouette in a horizontal plane. An object with a large projected area relative to its mass, such as a parachute, has a lower terminal velocity than one with a small projected area relative to its mass, such as a bullet.

Time dilation

According to the theory of relativity, time dilation is a difference in the elapsed time measured by two observers, either due to a velocity difference relative to each other, or by being differently situated relative to a gravitational field. As a result of the nature of spacetime, a clock that is moving relative to an observer will be measured to tick slower than a clock that is at rest in the observer's own frame of reference. A clock that is under the influence of a stronger gravitational field than an observer's will also be measured to tick slower than the observer's own clock.

Such time dilation has been repeatedly demonstrated, for instance by small disparities in a pair of atomic clocks after one of them is sent on a space trip, or by clocks on the Space Shuttle running slightly slower than reference clocks on Earth, or clocks on GPS and Galileo satellites running slightly faster. Time dilation has also been the subject of science fiction works, as it technically provides the means for forward time travel.

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