05_elasinelas - Lesson 5: Elastic and Inelastic Collisions...

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Lesson 5: Elastic and Inelastic Collisions If we are dealing with a collision involving really small objects (like atoms or molecules, things that are microscopic ) you’ll often find that kinetic energy is conserved. The total kinetic energy of all particles before the collision equals the total kinetic energy of all particles after the collision. This is a special case of conservation of energy. Notice that rather than just saying “energy is conserved” (which would imply that we need to take into account all kinds of energy), we have to focus on only kinetic energy . These types of collisions are elastic collisions ; they usually only happen at an atomic level. In “regular” collisions involving “regular” sized objects (like people, watermelons, and asteroids, things that are macroscopic ), kinetic energy is not conserved. In these cases you’d probably measure that the kinetic energy after the collision is less than the kinetic energy before. These are inelastic collisions . The kinetic energy might have been “lost” in one of several ways… 1. Friction between the objects could cause some of it to be converted to heat (thermal energy). 2. If the object was permanently changed (broken, bent, snapped, twisted, etc.) from its original shape. This includes if the objects are stuck together after the collision. 3. Some energy might have been converted into the energy of a sound or light that was released. Energy would have to be used up to do any of these. If the change is very small (like two pool balls bouncing off of each other) than the “lost” energy is very small. If the change is big (a rock shatters when hit by a bullet) the energy “lost” is great.
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05_elasinelas - Lesson 5: Elastic and Inelastic Collisions...

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