Difference Between Centrifugal vs Centripetal

It’s not obvious at first, but the difference between centrifugal and centripetal is considerable. Many individuals, however, struggle with understanding these forms of force and how they vary from one another.

By the time you’ve read through to the end of this post, we want you to take away a practical understanding of how these two varieties of force work in the real world. We’ll equip you with some precise definitions and a quick reference table to assist you.

Definition of Centrifugal

The definition of centrifugal is: “When a physical item naturally moves away from the centre of something else in a curved fashion.”

When it comes to effectively summarizing centrifugal vs centripetal, we can easily identify a key difference due to the fact that one is not a form of force. Rather, it’s a lack of force.

If an item happens to be moving centrifugally, it is naturally moving away from a central location and is doing so freely, often in a circular motion. This mainly happens because there is no external resistance or force being introduced to its movement path.

The only directional variation in physics other than a straight line is a curve. This means that without a force to keep an item on a fixed path, it then naturally curves over the course of its movement path while exploring both straight and curved angles.

It’s this involvement of force that highlights the primary difference between centripetal and centrifugal. Many people mistake the latter as being a variety of force but interestingly, it is the opposite.

The lack of force presence is ultimately what allows us to form an effective summary of this type of movement process. In contrast, the involvement of force is how we can effectively describe centripetal movement.

Definition of Centripetal

The definition of centripetal is: “When something moves on a fixed path due to the involvement of force.”

We already know due to the summary of centrifugal that there is a complete lack of force present to impact an item or object moving centrifugally. We also said that when summarizing centripetal, we must make reference to the involvement of force.

Anything moving centripetally requires the presence of force to keep it on a fixed trajectory. Interestingly, centripetal movement can involve an item following a curved or straight movement trajectory.

The primary difference here is that the object is unable to deviate from its path once in place. It must remain on either a curved path, or a straight path unless the presence and type of force being applied to it changes and dictates a diverted movement path.

A good example we can use to visually separate centripetal vs centrifugal would be a length of rope. When we throw a rope, it is free to move centrifugally. When we swing a rope, the force from our wrist dictates the exact direction that we will move it in.

Through using force as part of centripetal movement, we can dictate the direction of said movement. A car engine impacting car wheels would be a great example of this in action. Without an engine, the wheels would roll centrifugally.

Main Differences Between Centrifugal vs Centripetal

Below you’ll find the primary variations between these two movement types:

Difference Between Centrifugal and Centripetal: Conclusion

Finally, these two movement processes should now make a little more sense with the summary we have provided today. It’s a fairly straightforward task to summarize them when you keep in mind that centrifugal movement pushes objects away from something and centripetal movement pushes objects towards something. That’s the key variation.