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The moment of inertia, otherwise known as the angular mass or rotational inertia, of a rigid body is a tensor that determines the torque needed for a desired angular acceleration about a rotational axis; similar to how mass determines the force needed for a desired acceleration. It depends on the body's mass distribution and the axis chosen, with larger moments requiring more torque to change the body's rotation rate. It is an extensive (additive) property: for a point mass the moment of inertia is just the mass times the square of the perpendicular distance to the rotation axis. The moment of inertia of a rigid composite system is the sum of the moments of inertia of its component subsystems (all taken about the same axis). Its simplest definition is the second moment of mass with respect to distance from an axis. For bodies constrained to rotate in a plane, only their moment of inertia about an axis perpendicular to the plane, a scalar value, matters. For bodies free to rotate in three dimensions, their moments can be described by a symmetric 3 × 3 matrix, with a set of mutually perpendicular principal axes for which this matrix is diagonal and torques around the axes act independently of each other.

Moment of inertia
Маховик.jpg
Flywheels have large moments of inertia to smooth out mechanical motion. This example is in a Russian museum.
Common symbols
I
SI unit kg m2
Other units
lbf·ft·s2
Extensive? yes
Derivations from
other quantities
Dimension M L2
Tightrope walkers use the moment of inertia of a long rod for balance as they walk the rope. Samuel Dixon crossing the Niagara River in 1890.

Contents

IntroductionEdit

When a body is free to rotate around an axis, torque must be applied to change its angular momentum. The amount of torque needed to cause any given angular acceleration (the rate of change in angular velocity) is proportional to the moment of inertia of the body. Moment of inertia may be expressed in units of kilogram meter squared (kg·m2) in SI units and pound-foot-second squared (lbf·ft·s2) in imperial or US units.

Moment of inertia plays the role in rotational kinetics that mass (inertia) plays in linear kinetics - both characterize the resistance of a body to changes in its motion. The moment of inertia depends on how mass is distributed around an axis of rotation, and will vary depending on the chosen axis. For a point-like mass, the moment of inertia about some axis is given by  , where   is the distance of the point from the axis, and   is the mass. For an extended rigid body, the moment of inertia is just the sum of all the small pieces of mass multiplied by the square of their distances from the axis in question. For an extended body of a regular shape and uniform density, this summation sometimes produces a simple expression that depends on the dimensions, shape and total mass of the object.

In 1673 Christiaan Huygens introduced this parameter in his study of the oscillation of a body hanging from a pivot, known as a compound pendulum.[1] The term moment of inertia was introduced by Leonhard Euler in his book Theoria motus corporum solidorum seu rigidorum in 1765,[1][2] and it is incorporated into Euler's second law.

The natural frequency of oscillation of a compound pendulum is obtained from the ratio of the torque imposed by gravity on the mass of the pendulum to the resistance to acceleration defined by the moment of inertia. Comparison of this natural frequency to that of a simple pendulum consisting of a single point of mass provides a mathematical formulation for moment of inertia of an extended body.[3][4]

Moment of inertia also appears in momentum, kinetic energy, and in Newton's laws of motion for a rigid body as a physical parameter that combines its shape and mass. There is an interesting difference in the way moment of inertia appears in planar and spatial movement. Planar movement has a single scalar that defines the moment of inertia, while for spatial movement the same calculations yield a 3 × 3 matrix of moments of inertia, called the inertia matrix or inertia tensor.[5][6]

The moment of inertia of a rotating flywheel is used in a machine to resist variations in applied torque to smooth its rotational output. The moment of inertia of an airplane about its longitudinal, horizontal and vertical axis determines how steering forces on the control surfaces of its wings, elevators and tail affect the plane in roll, pitch and yaw.

DefinitionEdit

 
Spinning figure skaters can reduce their moment of inertia by pulling in their arms, allowing them to spin faster due to conservation of angular momentum.
Video of rotating chair experiment, illustrating moment of inertia. When the spinning professor pulls his arms, his moment of inertia decreases; to conserve angular momentum, his angular velocity increases.

Moment of inertia   is defined as the ratio of the net angular momentum   of a system to its angular velocity   around a principal axis,[7][8] that is

 

If the angular momentum of a system is constant, then as the moment of inertia gets smaller, the angular velocity must increase. This occurs when spinning figure skaters pull in their outstretched arms or divers curl their bodies into a tuck position during a dive, to spin faster.[7][8][9][10][11][12][13]

If the shape of the body does not change, then its moment of inertia appears in Newton's law of motion as the ratio of an applied torque   on a body to the angular acceleration   around a principal axis, that is

 

For a simple pendulum, this definition yields a formula for the moment of inertia   in terms of the mass   of the pendulum and its distance   from the pivot point as,

 

Thus, moment of inertia depends on both the mass   of a body and its geometry, or shape, as defined by the distance   to the axis of rotation.

This simple formula generalizes to define moment of inertia for an arbitrarily shaped body as the sum of all the elemental point masses   each multiplied by the square of its perpendicular distance   to an axis  .

In general, given an object of mass  , an effective radius   can be defined for an axis through its center of mass, with such a value that its moment of inertia is

 

where   is known as the radius of gyration.

ExamplesEdit

Simple pendulumEdit

Moment of inertia can be measured using a simple pendulum, because it is the resistance to the rotation caused by gravity. Mathematically, the moment of inertia of the pendulum is the ratio of the torque due to gravity about the pivot of a pendulum to its angular acceleration about that pivot point. For a simple pendulum this is found to be the product of the mass of the particle   with the square of its distance   to the pivot, that is

 

This can be shown as follows: The force of gravity on the mass of a simple pendulum generates a torque   around the axis perpendicular to the plane of the pendulum movement. Here   is the distance vector perpendicular to and from the force to the torque axis, and   is the net force on the mass. Associated with this torque is an angular acceleration,  , of the string and mass around this axis. Since the mass is constrained to a circle the tangential acceleration of the mass is  . Since   the torque equation becomes:

 

where   is a unit vector perpendicular to the plane of the pendulum. (The second to last step uses the vector triple product expansion with the perpendicularity of   and  .) The quantity   is the moment of inertia of this single mass around the pivot point.

The quantity   also appears in the angular momentum of a simple pendulum, which is calculated from the velocity   of the pendulum mass around the pivot, where   is the angular velocity of the mass about the pivot point. This angular momentum is given by

 

using a similar derivation to the previous equation.

Similarly, the kinetic energy of the pendulum mass is defined by the velocity of the pendulum around the pivot to yield

 

This shows that the quantity   is how mass combines with the shape of a body to define rotational inertia. The moment of inertia of an arbitrarily shaped body is the sum of the values   for all of the elements of mass in the body.

Compound pendulumEdit

 
Pendulums used in Mendenhall gravimeter apparatus, from 1897 scientific journal. The portable gravimeter developed in 1890 by Thomas C. Mendenhall provided the most accurate relative measurements of the local gravitational field of the Earth.

A compound pendulum is a body formed from an assembly of particles of continuous shape that rotates rigidly around a pivot. Its moment of inertia is the sum of the moments of inertia of each of the particles that it is composed of.[14][15]:395–396[16]:51–53 The natural frequency ( ) of a compound pendulum depends on its moment of inertia,  ,

 

where   is the mass of the object,   is local acceleration of gravity, and   is the distance from the pivot point to the center of mass of the object. Measuring this frequency of oscillation over small angular displacements provides an effective way of measuring moment of inertia of a body.[17]:516–517

Thus, to determine the moment of inertia of the body, simply suspend it from a convenient pivot point   so that it swings freely in a plane perpendicular to the direction of the desired moment of inertia, then measure its natural frequency or period of oscillation ( ), to obtain

 

where   is the period (duration) of oscillation (usually averaged over multiple periods).

The moment of inertia of the body about its center of mass,  , is then calculated using the parallel axis theorem to be

 

where   is the mass of the body and   is the distance from the pivot point   to the center of mass  .

Moment of inertia of a body is often defined in terms of its radius of gyration, which is the radius of a ring of equal mass around the center of mass of a body that has the same moment of inertia. The radius of gyration   is calculated from the body's moment of inertia   and mass   as the length[18]:1296–1297

 

Center of oscillationEdit

A simple pendulum that has the same natural frequency as a compound pendulum defines the length   from the pivot to a point called the center of oscillation of the compound pendulum. This point also corresponds to the center of percussion. The length   is determined from the formula,

 

or

 

The seconds pendulum, which provides the "tick" and "tock" of a grandfather clock, takes one second to swing from side-to-side. This is a period of two seconds, or a natural frequency of   for the pendulum. In this case, the distance to the center of oscillation,  , can be computed to be

 

Notice that the distance to the center of oscillation of the seconds pendulum must be adjusted to accommodate different values for the local acceleration of gravity. Kater's pendulum is a compound pendulum that uses this property to measure the local acceleration of gravity, and is called a gravimeter.

Measuring moment of inertiaEdit

The moment of inertia of a complex system such as a vehicle or airplane around its vertical axis can be measured by suspending the system from three points to form a trifilar pendulum. A trifilar pendulum is a platform supported by three wires designed to oscillate in torsion around its vertical centroidal axis.[19] The period of oscillation of the trifilar pendulum yields the moment of inertia of the system.[20]

Motion in a fixed planeEdit

Point massEdit

 
Four objects with identical masses and radii racing down a plane while rolling without slipping.
From back to front:
  •      spherical shell,
  •      solid sphere,
  •      cylindrical ring, and
  •      solid cylinder.
The time for each object to reach the finishing line depends on their moment of inertia. (OGV version)

The moment of inertia about an axis of a body is calculated by summing   for every particle in the body, where   is the perpendicular distance to the specified axis. To see how moment of inertia arises in the study of the movement of an extended body, it is convenient to consider a rigid assembly of point masses. (This equation can be used for axes that are not principal axes provided that it is understood that this does not fully describe the moment of inertia.[21])

Consider the kinetic energy of an assembly of   masses   that lie at the distances   from the pivot point  , which is the nearest point on the axis of rotation. It is the sum of the kinetic energy of the individual masses,[17]:516–517[18]:1084–1085[18]:1296–1300

 

This shows that the moment of inertia of the body is the sum of each of the   terms, that is

 

Thus, moment of inertia is a physical property that combines the mass and distribution of the particles around the rotation axis. Notice that rotation about different axes of the same body yield different moments of inertia.

The moment of inertia of a continuous body rotating about a specified axis is calculated in the same way, except with infinitely many point particles. Thus the limits of summation are removed, and the sum is written as follows:

 

Another expression replaces the summation with an integral,

 

Here, the function   gives the mass density at each point  ,   is a vector perpendicular to the axis of rotation and extending from a point on the rotation axis to a point   in the solid, and the integration is evaluated over the volume   of the body  . The moment of inertia of a flat surface is similar with the mass density being replaced by its areal mass density with the integral evaluated over its area.

Note on second moment of area: The moment of inertia of a body moving in a plane and the second moment of area of a beam's cross-section are often confused. The moment of inertia of a body with the shape of the cross-section is the second moment of this area about the  -axis perpendicular to the cross-section, weighted by its density. This is also called the polar moment of the area, and is the sum of the second moments about the  - and  -axes.[22] The stresses in a beam are calculated using the second moment of the cross-sectional area around either the  -axis or  -axis depending on the load.

ExamplesEdit

The moment of inertia of a compound pendulum constructed from a thin disc mounted at the end of a thin rod that oscillates around a pivot at the other end of the rod, begins with the calculation of the moment of inertia of the thin rod and thin disc about their respective centers of mass.[18]

  • The moment of inertia of a thin rod with constant cross-section   and density   and with length   about a perpendicular axis through its center of mass is determined by integration.[18]:1301 Align the  -axis with the rod and locate the origin its center of mass at the center of the rod, then
     
    where   is the mass of the rod.
  • The moment of inertia of a thin disc of constant thickness  , radius  , and density   about an axis through its center and perpendicular to its face (parallel to its axis of rotational symmetry) is determined by integration.[18]:1301 Align the  -axis with the axis of the disc and define a volume element as  , then
     
    where   is its mass.
  • The moment of inertia of the compound pendulum is now obtained by adding the moment of inertia of the rod and the disc around the pivot point   as,
     
    where   is the length of the pendulum. Notice that the parallel axis theorem is used to shift the moment of inertia from the center of mass to the pivot point of the pendulum.

A list of moments of inertia formulas for standard body shapes provides a way to obtain the moment of inertia of a complex body as an assembly of simpler shaped bodies. The parallel axis theorem is used to shift the reference point of the individual bodies to the reference point of the assembly.

As one more example, consider the moment of inertia of a solid sphere of constant density about an axis through its center of mass. This is determined by summing the moments of inertia of the thin discs that form the sphere. If the surface of the ball is defined by the equation[18]:1301

 

then the radius   of the disc at the cross-section   along the  -axis is

 

Therefore, the moment of inertia of the ball is the sum of the moments of inertia of the discs along the  -axis,

 

where   is the mass of the sphere.

Rigid bodyEdit

If a mechanical system is constrained to move parallel to a fixed plane, then the rotation of a body in the system occurs around an axis   perpendicular to this plane. In this case, the moment of inertia of the mass in this system is a scalar known as the polar moment of inertia. The definition of the polar moment of inertia can be obtained by considering momentum, kinetic energy and Newton's laws for the planar movement of a rigid system of particles.[14][17][23][24]

If a system of   particles,  , are assembled into a rigid body, then the momentum of the system can be written in terms of positions relative to a reference point  , and absolute velocities  :

 

where   is the angular velocity of the system and   is the velocity of  .

For planar movement the angular velocity vector is directed along the unit vector   which is perpendicular to the plane of movement. Introduce the unit vectors   from the reference point   to a point  , and the unit vector  , so

 

This defines the relative position vector and the velocity vector for the rigid system of the particles moving in a plane.

Note on the cross product: When a body moves parallel to a ground plane, the trajectories of all the points in the body lie in planes parallel to this ground plane. This means that any rotation that the body undergoes must be around an axis perpendicular to this plane. Planar movement is often presented as projected onto this ground plane so that the axis of rotation appears as a point. In this case, the angular velocity and angular acceleration of the body are scalars and the fact that they are vectors along the rotation axis is ignored. This is usually preferred for introductions to the topic. But in the case of moment of inertia, the combination of mass and geometry benefits from the geometric properties of the cross product. For this reason, in this section on planar movement the angular velocity and accelerations of the body are vectors perpendicular to the ground plane, and the cross product operations are the same as used for the study of spatial rigid body movement.

Angular momentumEdit

The angular momentum vector for the planar movement of a rigid system of particles is given by[14][17]

 

Use the center of mass   as the reference point so

 

and define the moment of inertia relative to the center of mass   as

 

then the equation for angular momentum simplifies to[18]:1028

 

The moment of inertia   about an axis perpendicular to the movement of the rigid system and through the center of mass is known as the polar moment of inertia. Specifically, it is the second moment of mass with respect to the orthogonal distance from an axis (or pole).

For a given amount of angular momentum, a decrease in the moment of inertia results in an increase in the angular velocity. Figure skaters can change their moment of inertia by pulling in their arms. Thus, the angular velocity achieved by a skater with outstretched arms results in a greater angular velocity when the arms are pulled in, because of the reduced moment of inertia. A figure skater is not, however, a rigid body.

Kinetic energyEdit

 
This 1906 rotary shear uses the moment of inertia of two flywheels to store kinetic energy which when released is used to cut metal stock (International Library of Technology, 1906).

The kinetic energy of a rigid system of particles moving in the plane is given by[14][17]

 

Let the reference point be the center of mass   of the system so the second term becomes zero, and introduce the moment of inertia   so the kinetic energy is given by[18]:1084

 

The moment of inertia   is the polar moment of inertia of the body.

Newton's lawsEdit

 
A 1920s John Deere tractor with the spoked flywheel on the engine. The large moment of inertia of the flywheel smooths the operation of the tractor

Newton's laws for a rigid system of   particles,  , can be written in terms of a resultant force and torque at a reference point  , to yield[14][17]

 

where   denotes the trajectory of each particle.

The kinematics of a rigid body yields the formula for the acceleration of the particle   in terms of the position   and acceleration   of the reference particle as well as the angular velocity vector   and angular acceleration vector   of the rigid system of particles as,

 

For systems that are constrained to planar movement, the angular velocity and angular acceleration vectors are directed along   perpendicular to the plane of movement, which simplifies this acceleration equation. In this case, the acceleration vectors can be simplified by introducing the unit vectors   from the reference point   to a point   and the unit vectors  , so

 

This yields the resultant torque on the system as

 

where  , and   is the unit vector perpendicular to the plane for all of the particles  .

Use the center of mass   as the reference point and define the moment of inertia relative to the center of mass  , then the equation for the resultant torque simplifies to[18]:1029

 

Motion in space of a rigid body, and the inertia matrixEdit

The scalar moments of inertia appear as elements in a matrix when a system of particles is assembled into a rigid body that moves in three-dimensional space. This inertia matrix appears in the calculation of the angular momentum, kinetic energy and resultant torque of the rigid system of particles.[3][4][5][6][25]

Let the system of particles   particles,   be located at the coordinates   with velocities   relative to a fixed reference frame. For a (possibly moving) reference point  , the relative positions are

 

and the (absolute) velocities are

 

where   is the angular velocity of the system, and   is the velocity of  .

Angular momentumEdit

Note that the cross product can be equivalently written as matrix multiplication by combining the first operand and the operator into a, skew-symmetric, matrix,  , constructed from the components of  :

 

The inertia matrix is constructed by considering the angular momentum, with the reference point   of the body chosen to be the center of mass  :[3][6]

 

where the terms containing   ( ) sum to zero by the definition of center of mass.

Then, the skew-symmetric matrix   obtained from the relative position vector  , can be used to define,

 

where   defined by

 

is the symmetric inertia matrix of the rigid system of particles measured relative to the center of mass  .

Kinetic energyEdit

The kinetic energy of a rigid system of particles can be formulated in terms of the center of mass and a matrix of mass moments of inertia of the system. Let the system of particles   be located at the coordinates   with velocities  , then the kinetic energy is[3][6]

 

where   is the position vector of a particle relative to the center of mass.

This equation expands to yield three terms

 

The second term in this equation is zero because   is the center of mass. Introduce the skew-symmetric matrix   so the kinetic energy becomes

 

Thus, the kinetic energy of the rigid system of particles is given by

 

where   is the inertia matrix relative to the center of mass and   is the total mass.

Resultant torqueEdit

The inertia matrix appears in the application of Newton's second law to a rigid assembly of particles. The resultant torque on this system is,[3][6]

 

where   is the acceleration of the particle  . The kinematics of a rigid body yields the formula for the acceleration of the particle   in terms of the position   and acceleration   of the reference point, as well as the angular velocity vector   and angular acceleration vector   of the rigid system as,

 

Use the center of mass   as the reference point, and introduce the skew-symmetric matrix   to represent the cross product  , to obtain

 

The calculation uses the identity

 

obtained from the Jacobi identity for the triple cross product as shown in the proof below:

Thus, the resultant torque on the rigid system of particles is given by

 

where   is the inertia matrix relative to the center of mass.

Parallel axis theoremEdit

The inertia matrix of a body depends on the choice of the reference point. There is a useful relationship between the inertia matrix relative to the center of mass   and the inertia matrix relative to another point  . This relationship is called the parallel axis theorem.[3][6]

Consider the inertia matrix   obtained for a rigid system of particles measured relative to a reference point  , given by

 

Let   be the center of mass of the rigid system, then

 

where   is the vector from the center of mass   to the reference point  . Use this equation to compute the inertia matrix,

 

Distribute over the cross product to obtain

 

The first term is the inertia matrix   relative to the center of mass. The second and third terms are zero by definition of the center of mass  . And the last term is the total mass of the system multiplied by the square of the skew-symmetric matrix   constructed from  .

The result is the parallel axis theorem,

 

where   is the vector from the center of mass   to the reference point  .

Note on the minus sign: By using the skew symmetric matrix of position vectors relative to the reference point, the inertia matrix of each particle has the form  , which is similar to the   that appears in planar movement. However, to make this to work out correctly a minus sign is needed. This minus sign can be absorbed into the term  , if desired, by using the skew-symmetry property of  .

Scalar moment of inertia in a planeEdit

The scalar moment of inertia,  , of a body about a specified axis whose direction is specified by the unit vector   and passes through the body at a point   is as follows:[6]

 

where   is the moment of inertia matrix of the system relative to the reference point  , and   is the skew symmetric matrix obtained from the vector  .

This is derived as follows. Let a rigid assembly of   particles,  , have coordinates  . Choose   as a reference point and compute the moment of inertia around a line L defined by the unit vector   through the reference point  ,  . The perpendicular vector from this line to the particle   is obtained from   by removing the component that projects onto  .

 

where   is the identity matrix, so as to avoid confusion with the inertia matrix, and   is the outer product matrix formed from the unit vector   along the line  .

To relate this scalar moment of inertia to the inertia matrix of the body, introduce the skew-symmetric matrix   such that  , then we have the identity

 

noting that   is a unit vector.

The magnitude squared of the perpendicular vector is

 

The simplification of this equation uses the triple scalar product identity

 

where the dot and the cross products have been interchanged. Exchanging products, and simplifying by noting that   and   are orthogonal:

 

Thus, the moment of inertia around the line   through   in the direction   is obtained from the calculation

 

where   is the moment of inertia matrix of the system relative to the reference point  .

This shows that the inertia matrix can be used to calculate the moment of inertia of a body around any specified rotation axis in the body.

Inertia tensorEdit

The inertia matrix is often described as the inertia tensor, which consists of the same moments of inertia and products of inertia about the three coordinate axes.[6][23] The inertia tensor is constructed from the nine component tensors, (the symbol   is the tensor product)

 

where   are the three orthogonal unit vectors defining the inertial frame in which the body moves. Using this basis the inertia tensor is given by

 

This tensor is of degree two because the component tensors are each constructed from two basis vectors. In this form the inertia tensor is also called the inertia binor.

For a rigid system of particles   each of mass   with position coordinates  , the inertia tensor is given by

 

where   is the identity tensor

 

In this case, the components of the inertia tensor are given by

 

The inertia tensor for a continuous body is given by

 

where   defines the coordinates of a point in the body and   is the mass density at that point. The integral is taken over the volume   of the body. The inertia tensor is symmetric because  .

Alternatively it can also be written in terms of the angular momentum operator  :

 

The inertia tensor can be used in the same way as the inertia matrix to compute the scalar moment of inertia about an arbitrary axis in the direction  ,

 

where the dot product is taken with the corresponding elements in the component tensors. A product of inertia term such as   is obtained by the computation

 

and can be interpreted as the moment of inertia around the  -axis when the object rotates around the  -axis.

The components of tensors of degree two can be assembled into a matrix. For the inertia tensor this matrix is given by,

 

It is common in rigid body mechanics to use notation that explicitly identifies the  ,  , and  -axes, such as   and  , for the components of the inertia tensor.

Inertia matrix in different reference framesEdit

The use of the inertia matrix in Newton's second law assumes its components are computed relative to axes parallel to the inertial frame and not relative to a body-fixed reference frame.[6][23] This means that as the body moves the components of the inertia matrix change with time. In contrast, the components of the inertia matrix measured in a body-fixed frame are constant.

Body frameEdit

Let the body frame inertia matrix relative to the center of mass be denoted  , and define the orientation of the body frame relative to the inertial frame by the rotation matrix  , such that,

 

where vectors   in the body fixed coordinate frame have coordinates   in the inertial frame. Then, the inertia matrix of the body measured in the inertial frame is given by

 

Notice that   changes as the body moves, while   remains constant.

Principal axesEdit

Measured in the body frame the inertia matrix is a constant real symmetric matrix. A real symmetric matrix has the eigendecomposition into the product of a rotation matrix   and a diagonal matrix  , given by

 

where

 

The columns of the rotation matrix   define the directions of the principal axes of the body, and the constants  ,  , and   are called the principal moments of inertia. This result was first shown by J. J. Sylvester (1852), and is a form of Sylvester's law of inertia.[26][27]

For bodies with constant density an axis of rotational symmetry is a principal axis.

EllipsoidEdit

 
An ellipsoid with the semi-principal diameters labelled  ,  , and  .

The moment of inertia matrix in body-frame coordinates is a quadratic form that defines a surface in the body called Poinsot's ellipsoid.[28] Let   be the inertia matrix relative to the center of mass aligned with the principal axes, then the surface

 

or

 

defines an ellipsoid in the body frame. Write this equation in the form,

 

to see that the semi-principal diameters of this ellipsoid are given by

 

Let a point   on this ellipsoid be defined in terms of its magnitude and direction,  , where