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6: Uniform Circular Motion and Gravitation

This chapter deals with the simplest form of curved motion, uniform circular motion, motion in a circular path at constant speed. Studying this topic illustrates most concepts associated with rotational motion and leads to the study of many new topics we group under the name rotation. Pure rotational motion occurs when points in an object move in circular paths centered on one point. Pure translational motion is motion with no rotation. Some motion combines both types, such as a rotating hockey puck moving along ice.

  • 6.0: Prelude to Uniform Circular Motion and Gravitation
    Many motions, such as the arc of a bird’s flight or Earth’s path around the Sun, are curved. Recall that Newton’s first law tells us that motion is along a straight line at constant speed unless there is a net external force. We will therefore study not only motion along curves, but also the forces that cause it, including gravitational forces. In some ways, this chapter is a continuation of Dynamics: Newton's Laws of Motion as we study more applications of Newton’s laws of motion.
  • 6.1: Rotation Angle and Angular Velocity
    Projectile motion is a special case of two-dimensional kinematics in which the object is projected into the air, while being subject to the gravitational force, and lands a distance away. In this chapter, we consider situations where the object does not land but moves in a curve. We begin the study of uniform circular motion by defining two angular quantities needed to describe rotational motion.
  • 6.2: Centripetal Acceleration
    We know from kinematics that acceleration is a change in velocity, either in its magnitude or in its direction, or both. In uniform circular motion, the direction of the velocity changes constantly, so there is always an associated acceleration, even though the magnitude of the velocity might be constant.  In this section we examine the direction and magnitude of that acceleration.
  • 6.3: Centripetal Force
    Any force or combination of forces can cause a centripetal or radial acceleration. Just a few examples are the tension in the rope on a tether ball, the force of Earth’s gravity on the Moon, friction between roller skates and a rink floor, a banked roadway’s force on a car, and forces on the tube of a spinning centrifuge. The direction of a centripetal force is toward the center of curvature, the same as the direction of centripetal acceleration.
  • 6.4: Fictitious Forces and Non-inertial Frames - The Coriolis Force
    What do taking off in a jet airplane, turning a corner in a car, riding a merry-go-round, and the circular motion of a tropical cyclone have in common? Each exhibits fictitious forces—unreal forces that arise from motion and may seem real, because the observer’s frame of reference is accelerating or rotating.
  • 6.5: Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation
    The gravitational force is relatively simple. It is always attractive, and it depends only on the masses involved and the distance between them. Stated in modern language, Newton’s universal law of gravitation states that every particle in the universe attracts every other particle with a force along a line joining them. The force is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.
  • 6.6: Satellites and Kepler’s Laws: An Argument for Simplicity
    there is a classical set of three laws, called Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, that describe the orbits of all bodies satisfying the two previous conditions (not just planets in our solar system). These descriptive laws are named for the German astronomer Johannes Kepler, who devised them after careful study (over some 20 years) of a large amount of meticulously recorded observations of planetary motion done by Tycho Brahe.
  • 6.E: Uniform Circular Motion and Gravitation (Excercise)

Thumbnail: Two bodies of different mass orbiting a common barycenter. The relative sizes and type of orbit are similar to the Pluto–Charon system. Image used with permission (public domain; Zhatt).


  • 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).