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The Bullet Drop
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The Bullet Drop

Credit: US Army
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:5.56_M855A1_Enhanced_Performance_Round.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

One of the fundamental concepts of physics, resolving motion into axial components, has traditionally been taught by describing how a bullet dropped and a bullet fired at the same height along the horizontal plane would strike the ground at the same time. In the experiment done, the Mythbusters use high-speed cameras to catch the exact moment that a bullet dropped and a bullet fired hit the ground.

  • Watch the Myth Busters Bullet Fired Drop below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9wQVIEdKh8

Why It Matters

  • By resolving vectors into their axial components, it becomes much easier to describe the world around you. Many of the quantities that are described and investigated in physics have both a magnitude and direction. Examples include acceleration, velocity, force and momentum. Even when the motion becomes too complex for the traditional left-right, front-back and up-down (yx and z-axis), physicists have defined different coordinate systems to help describe these motions.
  • Once you are able to identify which axis an object is moving along or being acted upon, the steps needed completely describe its motion become trivial. Explaining the world in the language of physics is simply the process of describing the equations of motion for a given object.

Can You Apply It?

Using the information provided above, answer the following questions.

  1. In the Myth Busters video of the experiment above, it shows that the time difference between the two bullets hitting the ground is approximately 40 milliseconds. Explain why the experiment was still considered a success?
  2. Imagine a bullet that had a mass that was 10 times as large as the bullet fired. Would the result be different? Explain.
  3. What would the consequences be if the bullet that was filled hit the ground significantly sooner than the bullet that was dropped? (Assume that it was not due to experimental error.)

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: US Army; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:5.56_M855A1_Enhanced_Performance_Round.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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