In classical mechanics, Newton's laws of motion are three laws that describe the relationship between the motion of an object and the forces acting on it. The first law states that an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless it is acted upon by an external force. The second law states that the rate of change of momentum of an object is directly proportional to the force applied, or, for an object with constant mass, that the net force on an object is equal to the mass of that object multiplied by the acceleration. The third law states that when one object exerts a force on a second object, that second object exerts a force that is equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first object.
The three laws of motion were first compiled by Isaac Newton in his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), first published in 1687. Newton used them to explain and investigate the motion of many physical objects and systems, which laid the foundation for Newtonian mechanics.
Newton's first law
The first law states that an object at rest will stay at rest, and an object in motion will stay in motion unless acted on by a net external force. Mathematically, this is equivalent to saying that if the net force on an object is zero, then the velocity of the object is constant.
Newton's first law is often referred to as the principle of inertia.
Newton's second law
The second law states that the rate of change of momentum of a body over time is directly proportional to the force applied, and occurs in the same direction as the applied force.
where is the momentum of the body.
where F is the net force applied, m is the mass of the body, and a is the body's acceleration. Thus, the net force applied to a body produces a proportional acceleration.
Variable-mass systems, like a rocket burning fuel and ejecting spent gases, are not closed and cannot be directly treated by making mass a function of time in the second law; The equation of motion for a body whose mass m varies with time by either ejecting or accreting mass is obtained by applying the second law to the entire, constant-mass system consisting of the body and its ejected or accreted mass; the result is
where u is the exhaust velocity of the escaping or incoming mass relative to the body. From this equation one can derive the equation of motion for a varying mass system, for example, the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation.
Under some conventions, the quantity on the left-hand side, which represents the advection of momentum, is defined as a force (the force exerted on the body by the changing mass, such as rocket exhaust) and is included in the quantity F. Then, by substituting the definition of acceleration, the equation becomes F = ma.
Newton's third law
The third law states that all forces between two objects exist in equal magnitude and opposite direction: if one object A exerts a force FA on a second object B, then B simultaneously exerts a force FB on A, and the two forces are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction: FA = −FB. The third law means that all forces are interactions between different bodies, or different regions within one body, and thus that there is no such thing as a force that is not accompanied by an equal and opposite force. In some situations, the magnitude and direction of the forces are determined entirely by one of the two bodies, say Body A; the force exerted by Body A on Body B is called the "action", and the force exerted by Body B on Body A is called the "reaction". This law is sometimes referred to as the action-reaction law, with FA called the "action" and FB the "reaction". In other situations the magnitude and directions of the forces are determined jointly by both bodies and it isn't necessary to identify one force as the "action" and the other as the "reaction". The action and the reaction are simultaneous, and it does not matter which is called the action and which is called reaction; both forces are part of a single interaction, and neither force exists without the other.
The two forces in Newton's third law are of the same type (e.g., if the road exerts a forward frictional force on an accelerating car's tires, then it is also a frictional force that Newton's third law predicts for the tires pushing backward on the road).
From a conceptual standpoint, Newton's third law is seen when a person walks: they push against the floor, and the floor pushes against the person. Similarly, the tires of a car push against the road while the road pushes back on the tires—the tires and road simultaneously push against each other. In swimming, a person interacts with the water, pushing the water backward, while the water simultaneously pushes the person forward—both the person and the water push against each other. The reaction forces account for the motion in these examples. These forces depend on friction; a person or car on ice, for example, may be unable to exert the action force to produce the needed reaction force.
Newton used the third law to derive the law of conservation of momentum; from a deeper perspective, however, conservation of momentum is the more fundamental idea (derived via Noether's theorem from Galilean invariance), and holds in cases where Newton's third law appears to fail, for instance when force fields as well as particles carry momentum, and in quantum mechanics.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle had the view that all objects have a natural place in the universe: that heavy objects (such as rocks) wanted to be at rest on the Earth and that light objects like smoke wanted to be at rest in the sky and the stars wanted to remain in the heavens. He thought that a body was in its natural state when it was at rest, and for the body to move in a straight line at a constant speed an external agent was needed continually to propel it, otherwise it would stop moving. Galileo Galilei, however, realised that a force is necessary to change the velocity of a body, i.e., acceleration, but no force is needed to maintain its velocity. In other words, Galileo stated that, in the absence of a force, a moving object will continue moving. (The tendency of objects to resist changes in motion was what Johannes Kepler had called inertia.) This insight was refined by Newton, who made it into his first law, also known as the "law of inertia"—no force means no acceleration, and hence the body will maintain its velocity. As Newton's first law is a restatement of the law of inertia which Galileo had already described, Newton appropriately gave credit to Galileo.
Importance and range of validity
Newton's laws were verified by experiment and observation for over 200 years, and they are excellent approximations at the scales and speeds of everyday life. Newton's laws of motion, together with his law of universal gravitation and the mathematical techniques of calculus, provided for the first time a unified quantitative explanation for a wide range of physical phenomena. For example, in the third volume of the Principia, Newton showed that his laws of motion, combined with the law of universal gravitation, explained Kepler's laws of planetary motion.
Newton's laws are applied to objects which are idealised as single point masses, in the sense that the size and shape of the object's body are neglected to focus on its motion more easily. This can be done when the object is small compared to the distances involved in its analysis, or the deformation and rotation of the body are of no importance. In this way, even a planet can be idealised as a particle for analysis of its orbital motion around a star.
In their original form, Newton's laws of motion are not adequate to characterise the motion of rigid bodies and deformable bodies. Leonhard Euler in 1750 introduced a generalisation of Newton's laws of motion for rigid bodies called Euler's laws of motion, later applied as well for deformable bodies assumed as a continuum. If a body is represented as an assemblage of discrete particles, each governed by Newton's laws of motion, then Euler's laws can be derived from Newton's laws. Euler's laws can, however, be taken as axioms describing the laws of motion for extended bodies, independently of any particle structure.
Newton's laws hold only with respect to a certain set of frames of reference called Newtonian or inertial reference frames. Some authors interpret the first law as defining what an inertial reference frame is; from this point of view, the second law holds only when the observation is made from an inertial reference frame, and therefore the first law cannot be proved as a special case of the second. Other authors do treat the first law as a corollary of the second. The explicit concept of an inertial frame of reference was not developed until long after Newton's death.
These three laws hold to a good approximation for macroscopic objects under everyday conditions. However, Newton's laws (combined with universal gravitation and classical electrodynamics) are inappropriate for use in certain circumstances, most notably at very small scales, at very high speeds, or in very strong gravitational fields. Therefore, the laws cannot be used to explain phenomena such as conduction of electricity in a semiconductor, optical properties of substances, errors in non-relativistically corrected GPS systems and superconductivity. Explanation of these phenomena requires more sophisticated physical theories, including general relativity and quantum field theory.
In special relativity, the second law holds in the original form F = dp/dt, where F and p are four-vectors. Special relativity reduces to Newtonian mechanics when the speeds involved are much less than the speed of light.
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It is important to note that we cannot derive a general expression for Newton's second law for variable mass systems by treating the mass in F = dP/dt = d(M v) as a variable. [...] We can use F = dP/dt to analyze variable mass systems only if we apply it to an entire system of constant mass, having parts among which there is an interchange of mass.[Emphasis as in the original]
Kleppner, Daniel; Kolenkow, Robert (1973). An Introduction to Mechanics. McGraw-Hill. pp. 133–134. ISBN 978-0-07-035048-9 – via archive.org.
Recall that F = dP/dt was established for a system composed of a certain set of particles[. ... I]t is essential to deal with the same set of particles throughout the time interval[. ...] Consequently, the mass of the system can not change during the time of interest.
- Resnick; Halliday; Krane (1992). Physics, Volume 1 (4th ed.). p. 83.
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Quoting Newton in the Principia: It is not one action by which the Sun attracts Jupiter, and another by which Jupiter attracts the Sun; but it is one action by which the Sun and Jupiter mutually endeavour to come nearer together.
- Resnick & Halliday (1977). Physics (Third ed.). John Wiley & Sons. pp. 78–79.
Any single force is only one aspect of a mutual interaction between two bodies.
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[...] while Newton had used the word 'body' vaguely and in at least three different meanings, Euler realized that the statements of Newton are generally correct only when applied to masses concentrated at isolated points;
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For explanations of Newton's laws of motion by Newton in the early 18th century and by the physicist William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) in the mid-19th century, see the following:
- Newton, Isaac. "Axioms or Laws of Motion". Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. 1, containing Book 1 (1729 English translation based on 3rd Latin edition (1726) ed.). p. 19.
- Newton, Isaac. "Axioms or Laws of Motion". Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. 2, containing Books 2 & 3 (1729 English translation based on 3rd Latin edition (1726) ed.). p. 19.
- Thomson, W.; Tait, P. G. (1867). "242, Newton's laws of motion". Treatise on natural philosophy. 1.
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