why-is-projectile-motion-parabolic

is parabolic because the vertical position of the object is influenced only by a constant , (if constant drag etc. is also assumed) and also because horizontal velocity is generally constant.

Put simply, basic projectile motion is parabolic because its related equation of motion,

##x(t) = 1/2 at^2 + v_i t + x_i##

is quadratic, and therefore describes a parabola.

However, I can explain a bit more in-depth why this works, if you’d like, by doing a little integration. Starting with a constant acceleration,

##a = k##,

we can move on to velocity by integrating with respect to ##t##. (##a = k## is interpreted as being ##a = kt^0##)

##v(t) = int k dt = kt + v_i##

The constant of integration here is interpreted to be initial velocity, so I’ve just named it ##v_i## instead of ##C##.

Now, to position:

##x(t) = int (kt + v_i) dt####x(t) = 1/2 kt^2 + v_i t + x_i##

Again, the constant of integration is interpreted in this case to be initial position. (denoted ##x_i##)

Of course, this equation will probably look familiar to you. It’s the equation of motion I described above.

Don’t worry if you haven’t learned about integration yet; the only thing you need to worry about is the of ##t## as we move from acceleration to velocity to position. If ##t## was present in the initial ##a = k## equation, with a degree other than ##0##, (in other words, if ##a## is changing over time) then after integration we would end up with a degree different from ##2##. But since ##a## is constant, ##t## will always be squared in the equation for position, resulting in a parabola.

Since acceleration due to gravity is generally fairly constant at around ##9.8 m/s^2##, we can say that the trajectory of a projectile is parabolic.

A case where the path wouldn’t appear to be parabolic is if an object were dropped, falling straight downwards, with no horizontal velocity. In this case the path looks more like a line, but it’s actually a parabola which has been infinitely horizontally compressed. In general, the smaller horizontal velocity, the more the parabola is compressed horizontally.

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