Galileo performed some experiments to understand the motion of objects.
Galileo studied motion of objects on an inclined plane. During experiment he found that
(i) Objects moving down an inclined plane accelerate.
(ii) Objects moving up retard.
(iii) Motion on a horizontal plane is an intermediate situation.
Galileo concluded that an object moving on a frictionless horizontal plane must neither have acceleration nor retardation, i.e. it should move with constant velocity (Fig. 5.1(a)).
• Another experiment by Galileo leading to the same conclusion involves a double inclined plane.
• A ball released from rest on one of the planes rolls down and climbs up the other. If the planes are smooth, the final height of the ball is nearly the same as the initial height (a little less but never greater). In the ideal situation, when friction is absent, the final height of the ball is the same as its initial height.
• If the slope of the second plane is decreased and the experiment repeated, the ball will still reach the same height, but in doing so, it will travel a longer distance. In the limiting case, when the slope of the second plane is zero (i.e. is a horizontal) the ball travels an infinite distance. In other words, its motion never ceases. This is, of course, an idealised situation (Fig. 5.1(b)).
• In practice, the ball does come to a stop after moving a finite distance on the horizontal plane, because of the opposing force of friction which can never be totally eliminated. However, if there were no friction, the ball would continue to move with a constant velocity on the horizontal plane.
• Galileo thus, arrived at a new insight on motion that the state of rest and the state of uniform linear motion (motion with constant velocity) are equivalent. In both cases, there is no net force acting on the body.
• It is incorrect to assume that a net force is needed to keep a body in uniform motion. To maintain a body in uniform motion, we need to apply an external force to encounter the frictional force, so that the two forces sum up to zero net external force.
• If the net external force is zero, a body at rest continues to remain at rest and a body in motion continues to move with a uniform velocity. This property of the body is called inertia.
• Inertia means ‘resistance to change’.
• A body does not change its state of rest or uniform motion, unless an external force compels it to change that state.