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  • Apply principles of vector addition to determine relative velocity.
  • Explain the significance of the observer in the measurement of velocity.

Relative velocity

If a person rows a boat across a rapidly flowing river and tries to head directly for the other shore, the boat instead moves diagonally relative to the shore, as in [link] . The boat does not move in the direction in which it is pointed. The reason, of course, is that the river carries the boat downstream. Similarly, if a small airplane flies overhead in a strong crosswind, you can sometimes see that the plane is not moving in the direction in which it is pointed, as illustrated in [link] . The plane is moving straight ahead relative to the air, but the movement of the air mass relative to the ground carries it sideways.

A boat is trying to cross a river. Due to the velocity of river the path traveled by boat is diagonal. The velocity of boat v boat is in positive y direction. The velocity of river v river is in positive x direction. The resultant diagonal velocity v total which makes an angle of theta with the horizontal x axis is towards north east direction.
A boat trying to head straight across a river will actually move diagonally relative to the shore as shown. Its total velocity (solid arrow) relative to the shore is the sum of its velocity relative to the river plus the velocity of the river relative to the shore.
An airplane is trying to fly straight north with velocity v sub p. Due to wind velocity v sub w in south west direction making an angle theta with the horizontal axis, the plane’s total velocity is thirty eight point 0 meters per seconds oriented twenty degrees west of north.
An airplane heading straight north is instead carried to the west and slowed down by wind. The plane does not move relative to the ground in the direction it points; rather, it moves in the direction of its total velocity (solid arrow).

In each of these situations, an object has a velocity    relative to a medium (such as a river) and that medium has a velocity relative to an observer on solid ground. The velocity of the object relative to the observer is the sum of these velocity vectors, as indicated in [link] and [link] . These situations are only two of many in which it is useful to add velocities. In this module, we first re-examine how to add velocities and then consider certain aspects of what relative velocity means.

How do we add velocities? Velocity is a vector (it has both magnitude and direction); the rules of vector addition    discussed in Vector Addition and Subtraction: Graphical Methods and Vector Addition and Subtraction: Analytical Methods apply to the addition of velocities, just as they do for any other vectors. In one-dimensional motion, the addition of velocities is simple—they add like ordinary numbers. For example, if a field hockey player is moving at 5 m/s size 12{"5 m/s"} {} straight toward the goal and drives the ball in the same direction with a velocity of 30 m/s size 12{"30 m/s"} {} relative to her body, then the velocity of the ball is 35 m/s size 12{"35 m/s"} {} relative to the stationary, profusely sweating goalkeeper standing in front of the goal.

In two-dimensional motion, either graphical or analytical techniques can be used to add velocities. We will concentrate on analytical techniques. The following equations give the relationships between the magnitude and direction of velocity ( v size 12{v} {} and θ size 12{θ} {} ) and its components ( v x size 12{v rSub { size 8{x} } } {} and v y size 12{v rSub { size 8{y} } } {} ) along the x - and y -axes of an appropriately chosen coordinate system:

v x = v cos θ size 12{v rSub { size 8{x} } =v"cos"θ} {}
v y = v sin θ size 12{v rSub { size 8{y} } =v"sin"θ} {}
v = v x 2 + v y 2 size 12{v= sqrt {v rSub { size 8{x} } rSup { size 8{2} } +v rSub { size 8{y} } rSup { size 8{2} } } } {}
θ = tan 1 ( v y / v x ) . size 12{θ="tan" rSup { size 8{ - 1} } \( v rSub { size 8{y} } /v rSub { size 8{x} } \) } {}
The figure shows components of velocity v in horizontal x axis v x and in vertical y axis v y. The angle between the velocity vector v and the horizontal axis is theta.
The velocity, v size 12{v} {} , of an object traveling at an angle θ size 12{θ} {} to the horizontal axis is the sum of component vectors v x size 12{v} {subx} and v y size 12{v} {suby} .

These equations are valid for any vectors and are adapted specifically for velocity. The first two equations are used to find the components of a velocity when its magnitude and direction are known. The last two are used to find the magnitude and direction of velocity when its components are known.

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Source:  OpenStax, 2d kinematics. OpenStax CNX. Sep 04, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11879/1.3
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