Isn’t there “some” acceleration at the very start and very end of an elevator …

Isn’t there “some” acceleration at the very start and very end of an elevator ride? Why does one’s stomach take a flop when the elevator stops and not when it starts?

Yes, there is acceleration at the start and stop of an elevator ride. As the car starts, it accelerates toward the destination and as the car starts, it accelerates in the opposite direction. Your stomach takes a flop whenever you feel particularly light, as when you are falling or otherwise accelerating downward. As you accelerate downward, your body doesn’t have to support your stomach as much as normal and you feel strange. In fact, you feel somewhat weightless. You have this feeling whenever the elevator starts to move downward (and therefore accelerates downward) or stops moving upward (and there accelerates downward).

As the Space Shuttle falls, does it accelerate forever and does it go faster and…

As the Space Shuttle falls, does it accelerate forever and does it go faster and faster?

Yes to the first part, no to the second part. Remember that acceleration can change the direction of velocity without changing the magnitude of velocity (the speed of the object). When the space shuttle accelerates, its speed doesn’t change, only its direction of travel. Although it accelerates endlessly, it never goes faster or slower. Actually, if the shuttle’s orbit isn’t circular, its speed does increase and decrease slightly as it orbits the earth in an ellipse, but that’s an unimportant detail. For a circular orbit, the shuttle’s speed is constant but its velocity (speed and direction) is not constant!

Why is 45° above horizontal the ideal angle to throw something the greatest …

Why is 45° above horizontal the ideal angle to throw something the greatest distance if gravity is acting on the vertical direction but not the horizontal?

The 45° angle is ideal because it gives the ball a reasonable upward component of velocity and also a reasonable downfield component of velocity. The upward component is important because it determines how long the ball will stay off the ground. The downfield component is important because it determines how quickly the ball will travel downfield. If you use too much of the ball’s velocity to send it upward, it will stay off the ground a long time but will travel downfield too slowly to take advantage of that time. If you use too much of the ball’s velocity to send it downfield, it will cover the horizontal distances quickly but will stay of the ground for too short a time to travel very far. Thus an equal balance between the two (achieved at 45°) leads to the best distance. Note that this discussion is only true in the absence of air resistance.

If you drop a penny from the Empire state building – could it really puncture a …

If you drop a penny from the Empire state building – could it really puncture a hole in a car because of its constant acceleration?

Probably not. If the penny were to fall sideways, so that it had as little air resistance as possible, it would reach about 280 km/h (175 mph). That speed ought to be enough to drive the penny into the car if its top were thin enough. However, studies have shown (see http://www.urbanlegends.com/science/penny_falling_impact.html) that coins tumble as they fall and experience substantial air resistance. As a result, you could probably catch a falling penny in your hand, although it might sting a bit. A falling ballpoint pen, because of its aerodynamic shape, is another matter.

What is the difference between mass and weight?

What is the difference between mass and weight?

Mass is the measure of an object’s inertia. You have more mass than a book, meaning that you are harder to accelerate than a book. If you and the book were each inside boxes, mounted on wheels, I could quickly determine which box you were in. I would simply push on both boxes and see which one accelerated most easily. That box would contain the book and you would be in the box that’s hard to accelerate. Weight, on the other hand, is the amount of force that gravity (usually the earth’s gravity) exerts on an object. You weigh more than a book, meaning that the earth pulls downward on you harder than it does on the book. Again, I could figure out which box you were in by weighing the two boxes. You’d be in the heavier box. So mass and weight refer to very different characteristics of objects. They don’t even have the same units (mass is measured in kilograms, while weight is measured in newtons. But fortunately, there is a wonderful relationship between mass and weight: an object’s weight is exactly proportional to its mass. Because of this relationship, all objects fall at the same rate. Also, you can use a measurement of weight to determine an object’s mass. That’s what you do when you weigh yourself on a bathroom spring scale; you are trying to determine how much of you there is-your mass-but you are doing it by measuring how hard gravity is pulling on you—your weight.