In everyday life, we see some objects at rest and others in motion. Birds fly, fish swim, blood flows through veins and arteries and cars move. Atoms, molecules, planets, stars and galaxies are all in motion. We often perceive an object to be in motion when its position changes with time. However, there are situations where the motion is inferred through indirect evidences. For example, we infer the motion of air by observing the movement of dust and the movement of leaves and branches of trees. What causes the phenomena of sunrise, sunset and changing of seasons? Is it due to the motion of the earth? If it is true, why don’t we directly perceive the motion of the earth?
We describe the location of an object by specifying a reference point. Let us understand this by an example. Let us assume that a school in a village is 2 km north of the railway station. We have specified the position of the school with respect to the railway station. In this example, the railway station is the reference point. We could have also chosen other reference points according to our convenience. Therefore, to describe the position of an object we need to specify a reference point called the origin.
Different objects may take different amounts of time to cover a given distance. Some of them move fast and some move slowly. The rate at which objects move can be different. Also, different objects can move at the same rate. One of the ways of measuring the rate of motion of an object is to find out the distance travelled by the object in unit time. This quantity is referred to as speed. The SI unit of speed is metre per second. This is represented by the symbol m s–1 or m/s. The other units of speed include centimetre per second (cm s–1) and kilometre per hour (km h–1). To specify the speed of an object, we require only its magnitude. The speed of an object need not be constant. In most cases, objects will be in non-uniform motion. Therefore, we describe the rate of motion of such objects in terms of their average speed. The average speed of an object is obtained by dividing the total distance travelled by the total time taken.
During uniform motion of an object along a straight line, the velocity remains constant with time. In this case, the change in velocity of the object for any time interval is zero. However, in non-uniform motion, velocity varies with time. It has different values at different instants and at different points of the path. Thus, the change in velocity of the object during any time interval is not zero. Can we now express the change in velocity of an object?
Graphs provide a convenient method to present basic information about a variety of events. For example, in the telecast of a one-day cricket match, vertical bar graphs show the run rate of a team in each over. As you have studied in mathematics, a straight line graph helps in solving a linear equation having two variables.
When an object moves along a straight line with uniform acceleration, it is possible to relate its velocity, acceleration during motion and the distance covered by it in a certain time interval by a set of equations known as the equations of motion. There are three such equations. These are:
When the velocity of an object changes, we say that the object is accelerating. The change in the velocity could be due to change in its magnitude or the direction of the motion or both. Can you think of an example when an object does not change its magnitude of velocity but only its direction of motion?