When you drop a ball, it falls 16 feet the first second you release it. If you throw the ball horizontally, it will also fall 16 feet in the first second, even though it is moving horizontally… it moves both away from you and down toward the ground. Think about a bullet shot horizontally. It travels a lot faster than you can throw (about 2,000 feet each second). But it will still fall 16 feet during that first second. Gravity pulls on all objects (like the ball and the bullet) the same way, no matter how fast they go.
What if you shoot the bullet faster and faster? Gravity will still pull it down 16 feet during the first second, but remember that the surface of the Earth is round. Can you imagine how fast we’d need to shoot the bullet so that when the bullet falls 16 feet in one second, the Earth curves away from the bullet at the same rate of 16 feet each second?
Answer: that bullet needs to travel nearly 5 miles per second. (This is also how satellites stay in orbit – going just fast enough to keep from falling inward and not too fast that they fly out of orbit.)
Catapults are a nifty way to fire things both vertically and horizontally, so you can get a better feel for how objects fly through the air. Notice when you launch how the balls always fall at the same rate – about 16 feet in the first second. What about the energy involved?
When you fire a ball through the air, it moves both vertically and horizontally (up and out). When you toss it upwards, you store the (moving) kinetic energy as potential energy, which transfers back to kinetic when it comes whizzing back down. If you throw it only outwards, the energy is completely lost due to friction.
The higher you pitch a ball upwards, the more energy you store in it. Instead of breaking our arms trying to toss balls into the air, let’s make a simple machine that will do it for us. This catapult uses elastic kinetic energy stored in the rubber band to launch the ball skyward.
Please login or register to read the rest of this content.