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Centripetal Force & Acceleration

"Centripetal" means "seeking the centre" … it comes from the Latin word peto (I seek)


Newtons 1st law states that a body will continue in a straight line unless acted upon by and external force, it also states that if a body is travelling in a circular path there must be some force pushing or pulling it towards its centre of rotation. This force that is acting toward the centre of rotation is known as centripetal force.

Centripetal force

Velocity is a vector made up of two components:

  • Speed
  • Direction
  • Acceleration = Change in Velocity / Time

    For a body that is travelling in a straight line we often only state the magnitude of speed but should also specify the direction. The reason for this becomes clear when we consider a car travelling around a corner at a constant speed. A car turning will cause a vector change (the direction) in velocity and therefore a resultant acceleration change even though the magnitude has not changed, only the direction.

    In short because the cars direction is changing it is accelerating even though its speedo reading hasn't changed.

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