Illustration 12.4: Angular Momentum and Area

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In the absence of a net external torque acting on a system, a particle's angular momentum remains constant. For this discussion, the particle is free, so angular momentum should be conserved. Is there a different way to state the concept of angular momentum conservation? There may be. Consider the statement, Does a particle sweep out equal areas in equal times (with respect to any origin)? Specifically, in this Illustration, does a free particle moving in a straight line sweep out equal areas in equal times?

Press "start" to begin the animation, and let the show begin: A black dot will move freely from left to right. Different colors show the area the particle sweeps out with respect to some fixed point (the origin). Do all the areas have the same size? Click within each area and see what will happen. Certainly from mathematical equations we know the area of a triangle = width * height/2. All of the areas have the same height and the same width (= vx*dt).

Kepler's second law states, During equal time intervals, the radius vector from the sun to a planet sweeps out equal areas. What does this tell you about the angular momentum of the planets? What does this tell you about the motion of the planets?

Illustration authored by Fu-Kwun Hwang and Mario Belloni.
Applet authored by Fu-Kwun Hwang, National Taiwan Normal University.

Physlets were developed at Davidson College and converted from Java to JavaScript using the SwingJS system developed at St. Olaf College.

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Physlet Quantum Physics
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