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Newton's Third Law

Newton's Third Law

Newton's third law of motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This law is also called the law of action and reaction of forces.

What's happening in Newton's third law?

When two particles interact, each exerts an equal force on the other. Though the magnitude of these forces is the same, their directions are opposite to each other. You can write the equation for this law as , where A and B are variables indicating the objects.

A frog swimming pushes the water back, and water pushes its body forward. Sometimes this law isn't as obvious as it sounds in real life. Take a flying bird as an example, it almost looks like there is one object here, and no other objects for it to interact with. However, that isn't accurate – the bird's wings push the air down, and the air pushes the bird upwards.

Newton's third law, Flying bird, StudySmarterFlying bird

Applications of Newton's third law

  • Let's look at a different example. When a gun is fired there is a forward force on the bullet. The bullet also exerts an equal and opposite force on the gun. You can perceive this in the recoil of the gun. But perhaps you are wondering why the gun doesn't recoil at the same acceleration as the bullet.

It is true that the gun recoils at a different acceleration than the bullet even though they have the same magnitude of force. This is possible, and was described in Newton's Second Law of motion which states that force is the product of mass and acceleration

  • . This also means that . Therefore, if the mass is more, then there will be less acceleration.

Newton's third law, Gun fire, StudySmarterGun fired

  • Imagine you are in a boat on the water with a ball in your hand, and you want to move east. You throw the ball in the opposite direction. You and the boat will move east, like you wanted. But because the mass of the ball is much smaller than you and the boat, you are not going to move very far.

The ball possesses less mass and will have greater acceleration, comparatively. Though the amount of force is the same, if you decrease the mass, the acceleration is increased, and if you increase the mass, the acceleration decreases.

  • The same principle can be applied to a balloon. Imagine you have a fully-inflated balloon and it has a hole in it somewhere. Gas is going to escape out of the opening and the balloon will fly in the opposite direction. That's how an object can be propelled using gas.

Newton's third law, Balloon, StudySmarterGas propelling balloon

Why Newton's third law is significant

A deep understanding of Newton's third law of motion has been of great use across almost all engineering disciplines. The balloon example is how we produce rockets. When a rocket is built, it takes into consideration where gases will burn to orchestrate its movement. The action force is the rapid disposal of burning gas from the back of the rocket. This exerts an equal reaction force on the rocket causing it to move upwards.

This law has a role to play in sports, too. It's important to understand that if you hit a tennis ball with a lot of force you should be prepared to receive a reaction from the ball. This allows you to take a proactive approach by positioning physically and psychologically, expecting the response. It can help prevent injuries, too.

Newton's third law - key takeaways

  • Newton's third law of motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
  • Newton's third law is also called the action and reaction of forces.
  • As much as a subject exerts a force on an object, the object does on the subject too. The force has the same magnitude but a different direction.
  • When the opposing forces are the same, the more the mass, the less the acceleration. And the less the mass, the greater the acceleration.
  • Forces act in pairs.

Frequently Asked Questions about Newton's Third Law

Newton's third law of motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

It is used across engineering, including in aerospace engineering to let us launch rockets.

Gas from beneath propels the rocket to shoot upwards in an opposite direction.

The best way to write this is as FA = -FB. Where A and B are variables indicating the objects.

Considering that the point where two bodies meet can be acknowledged as a body, the net force in a body of equilibrium always equals 0. This means that if the force is split into two parts, they must be equal and opposite in direction to add up to zero.

Final Newton's Third Law Quiz

Question

What is Newton's third law of motion?

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Answer

Newton's third law of motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. 

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Question

Which law is also called the law of action and reaction of forces?

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Answer

Newton's third law of motion

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Question

When two particles interact, there is no equal and opposite force exerted. Is this statement true or false?


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Answer

False

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Question

Is a car crash an example of Newton's third law?

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Answer

Yes

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Question

Why do guns not recoil at the same acceleration as bullets? 

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Answer

Acceleration is inversely proportional to the mass of objects. The more the mass, the less the acceleration.

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Question

Newton's third law is the basis for rocket launches, true or false?

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Answer

True

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Question

What is an example of Newton's third law in real life?

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Answer

Flying birds push air down with their wings, and the air pushes them up

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