Physics 15 Projectile Motion

There’s straight line motion. Our balls and cars have shown us a little about it.

There’s pendulum motion. Nuts on strings showed us about this.

There’s circular motion. We used a nut on a string to find out a little about it.

There’s harmonic motion. A Slinky and springs showed us a little about this.

One last type of motion is projectile motion.

What happens if you throw a ball straight up?

If you don’t dodge, it will come straight down and hit you. Why?

If you throw a ball across a room, it curves down to the floor. Why?


Question: How does projectile motion work?







Toss the ball up from your hand

tossing a ball diagram

The ball leaves the hand, goes up then comes back down into the hand.

Observe how the ball goes up and down

Catch it when it returns to your hand

If you have a friend to help, have your friend gently toss the ball across a space

Observe how the ball moves

thrown ball diagram

Throwing a ball or other projectile gives it an arch shaped path.

Play catch outside with your friend

Start with gentle tosses and gradually throw the ball harder

Observe how the motion of the ball changes as you throw it harder

Get your stopwatch ready. Stand ready to throw your ball straight up.

Start the stopwatch and throw your ball straight up as hard as you can [It helps to have a friend help with this.]

Stop the stopwatch when the ball hits the ground

Repeat this only if you did not get the stopwatch stopped on time


Draw your ball going up and down one time

Describe how your ball goes up and down

Draw your ball going across a space

Describe the motion of your ball

Describe how the motion of your ball changes as the throws get harder

Time for your ball to go up and down:


What makes your ball go up?

Newton’s First Law of Motion says an object in motion will continue that motion unless acted on by another force. What force keeps your ball from going up forever?

Why do you think the projectile motion of your ball changes as you change how you throw it?

vectors for a thrown ball

Throwing a ball is more like the projectile motion people think of because the ball goes over a distance. At the beginning most of the force pushes the ball up, some goes sideways and gravity pulls down. At the top of the arch there is no more force pushing the ball up but it still has force pushing it sideways and gravity pulls it down. When the ball lands, only gravity is still pulling on the ball.

Draw your ball going across a space. Show your ball at the beginning, middle and end of the toss.

Add vectors to show how the forces are acting on your ball at each point to change how it moves.

How does projectile motion work?

Why can’t you use an average time for throwing your ball straight up?


How high did you throw your ball?

Your ball spent half its time going up and half its time coming down. Divide your time in half.

What provided the force to make the ball go up?

vectors for tossing a ball

When the ball first leaves the hand, most of the force is pushing the ball upward with gravity pulling against it. At the top of the loop, gravity and upward force cancel each other out and the ball stops. Then gravity pulls harder than the upward force so the ball falls back down into your hand. This is projectile motion.

What provided the force to make the ball come down?

Remember the formula from the last Project was a = d/t2

This time we know the acceleration is 9.8 m/s2 and the time and want to know the distance. We can rearrange the formula to be d = at2

Calculate how high you threw the ball.


What I Found Out

First I found out this Project is much easier with two people and I am only one so pictures were not possible. So I did drawings on my computer.

Tossing a ball up and down in one hand isn’t hard. The ball went up out of my hand then stopped and fell back down into my hand.

Playing catch can be fun. When the ball is tossed easily, it arches up then down into the other person’s hands. As the ball is tossed harder, the arch flattens out until it is almost a straight line.

Throwing or tossing a ball uses force from my hand. Gravity is always pulling down on the ball.

diagram of a ball thrown hard

Throwing a ball harder means it is going faster so gravity doesn’t slow it down as fast flattening the curve the ball makes.

The ball must go fast enough to overcome gravity. The harder I throw the ball, the faster it goes and the longer before gravity slows it down enough to make it fall.

In projectile motion the ball starts off with lots of force pushing it upwards. Gravity pulls a little of that force at a time slowing the ball down. At the top of the arch gravity is equal to the force making the ball go forward. Then gravity is greater making the ball fall down.

When a ball goes straight up, gravity pulls down until the ball stops and starts to fall down. Even if I try very hard, I won’t throw the ball with the same force every time so I must time each throw separately.

When I tossed my ball up, it took 1.94 sec to hit the ground. Half the time is .97 sec. Squaring the time gives .88 s2. Multiplying that by 9.8 m/s2 tells me I threw the ball 8.6 m or about 28 feet up.