Uniform Circular Motion: Definition & Mathematics

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Newton's First Law of Motion: Examples of the Effect of Force on Motion

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:02 What Is Uniform…
  • 1:31 Centripetal vs.…
  • 3:00 Equations
  • 4:00 Example Calculation
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up


Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this lesson, you will be able to explain what uniform circular motion is, in terms of both acceleration and forces. You will also be able to use equations for centripetal force and acceleration to solve problems. A short quiz will follow.

What Is Uniform Circular Motion?

Circular motion is a part of life. Planets orbit the sun in circular motion. A car screeching as it goes around a corner is also in circular motion. And if you've ever played lawn tennis, the kind with a ball on a string flying around a pole, then you'll have experienced another example of circular motion. If you're going at a constant speed in your circle, then the motion is said to be uniform.

Uniform circular motion is motion in a circle at a constant speed. This happens because of a centripetal force, a force pointing towards the center of a circle. Mathematically, an object in uniform circular motion has a net force towards the center of the circle, an acceleration vector towards the center of the circle, and a velocity tangent to the circle, as shown in this diagram:

uniform circular motion diagram

An interesting thing about circular motion is that it shows very clearly why it's important to know the difference between scalars and vectors. Speed is a scalar, whereas velocity is a vector - velocity has to include a direction, not just a number. The speed of an object in uniform circular motion is constant because after all that's what makes it uniform. But the velocity is always changing. A satellite or car or bird moving in circular motion is constantly changing direction, so their velocity is constantly changing. This shows why an object can have an acceleration even at a constant speed.

Centripetal vs. Centrifugal Force

An object in circular motion is kept in that circle due to a centripetal force. A centripetal force is a force directed towards the center of a circle. But this seems to go contrary to a lot of people's experiences.

Let's say you're in the passenger seat of a car, when it takes a sharp turn to the left. Where are you pushed? If you have a good memory for this sort of thing, you'll probably answer that you're pushed to the right - or in other words, you're pushed towards the outside of the circle. So surely, the force is away from the center of the circle, not towards it. This is the definition of a centrifugal force, a force pointing away from the center of a circle.

But centrifugal forces don't really exist. When you're sat in a car moving in a straight line, your body wants to keep going in a straight line. Newton's 1st Law, which we talk about in another lesson, says that a body in motion stays in motion, a body at rest stays at rest, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. So, when the car makes the turn, your body wants to keep going straight. Your body goes straight, but the car turns, causing you to smush against the outside of the curve. But the car is actually keeping you inside the circle, so even though you feel the pressure of the car door, the force your body is experiencing is towards the center of the circle - it's centripetal. If it wasn't, you would just keep going in your nice, neat, straight line.


There are two main equations you need to know about circular motion. The first helps you calculate the size of that centripetal force. It says that the centripetal force, Fc, measured in newtons, is equal to the mass of the object moving in a circle, m, multiplied by the velocity of the object as it goes around the circle, v, measured in meters per second, squared (it's just the velocity that's squared), divided by the radius of the circle, measured in meters.

centripetal force and acceleration equations

And we also have an equation for centripetal acceleration - the size of the acceleration that's also pointed directly towards the center of the circle, that's measured in meters per second per second, or meters per second squared. The equation's pretty similar, but just without the m. It's just the velocity, v, measured in meters per second, squared, divided by the radius of the circle.

But let's go through an example showing just how to use these equations.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create An Account