Footnote: "Centrifugal" vs. "Centripetal"

Over the years, I have received some comments that I should be using the word "centripetal" rather than "centrifugal" in my general public presentations. Technically, "centripetal" is correct, of course, but I use the word centripetal only in technical circles, as the word centripetal is understood by only a small percent of the population, whereas the word centrifugal is understood by many times more people. That is why I decided to use the word centrifugal for this level of presentation - to the general public on the World Wide Web (from the highest financial executives to the most general of laymen). In the physics classroom, centripetal is more appropriate.

For those who don't know, when you are in a rotating space colony, your feet exert a centrifugal force on the floor, whereas the floor exerts a centripetal force on your feet. Hence, artificial gravity as regards a force on your body is a centripetal force. They're equal and opposite forces of the same phenomenon. Your feet exert the centrifugal force onto the floor of a rotating space colony.

(This "force" is due to the fact that objects naturally travel in a straight line at constant velocity. Since the "floor" of a rotating wheel is travelling in a circular direction, it's constantly pushing you around by your feet, towards the center of the space colony.)


This page was last updated: 21 June 1999

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