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3: Two-Dimensional Kinematics

The arc of a basketball, the orbit of a satellite, a bicycle rounding a curve, a swimmer diving into a pool, blood gushing out of a wound, and a puppy chasing its tail are but a few examples of motions along curved paths. In fact, most motions in nature follow curved paths rather than straight lines. Motion along a curved path on a flat surface or a plane (such as that of a ball on a pool table or a skater on an ice rink) is two-dimensional, and thus described by two-dimensional kinematics. 

  • 3.0: Prelude to Two-Dimensional Kinematics
    Motion not confined to a plane, such as a car following a winding mountain road, is described by three-dimensional kinematics. Both two- and three-dimensional kinematics are simple extensions of the one-dimensional kinematics developed for straight-line motion in the previous chapter. This simple extension will allow us to apply physics to many more situations, and it will also yield unexpected insights about nature.
  • 3.1: Kinematics in Two Dimensions - An Introduction
    An old adage states that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The two legs of the trip and the straight-line path form a right triangle.
  • 3.2: Vector Addition and Subtraction: Graphical Methods
    A vector is a quantity that has magnitude and direction. Displacement, velocity, acceleration, and force, for example, are all vectors. In one-dimensional, or straight-line, motion, the direction of a vector can be given simply by a plus or minus sign. In two dimensions (2-d), however, we specify the direction of a vector relative to some reference frame (i.e., coordinate system), using an arrow having length proportional to the vector’s magnitude and pointing in the direction of the vector.
  • 3.3: Vector Addition and Subtraction: Analytical Methods
    Analytical methods of vector addition and subtraction employ geometry and simple trigonometry rather than the ruler and protractor of graphical methods. Part of the graphical technique is retained, because vectors are still represented by arrows for easy visualization. However, analytical methods are more concise, accurate, and precise than graphical methods, which are limited by the accuracy with which a drawing can be made.
  • 3.4: Projectile Motion
    Projectile motion is the motion of an object thrown or projected into the air, subject to only the acceleration of gravity. The object is called a projectile, and its path is called its trajectory. The motion of falling objects is a simple one-dimensional type of projectile motion in which there is no horizontal movement. In this section, we consider two-dimensional projectile motion, such as that of a football or other object for which air resistance is negligible.
  • 3.5: Addition of Velocities
    Velocities in two dimensions are added using the same analytical vector techniques. Relative velocity is the velocity of an object as observed from a particular reference frame, and it varies dramatically with reference frame. Relativity is the study of how different observers measure the same phenomenon, particularly when the observers move relative to one another. Classical relativity is limited to situations where speed is less than about 1% of the speed of light (3000 km/s).
  • 3.E: Two-Dimensional Kinematics (Exercises)


  • Paul Peter Urone (Professor Emeritus at California State University, Sacramento) and Roger Hinrichs (State University of New York, College at Oswego) with Contributing Authors: Kim Dirks (University of Auckland) and Manjula Sharma (University of Sydney). This work is licensed by OpenStax University Physics under a Creative Commons Attribution License (by 4.0).