Acceleration: the rate at which the speed and direction of a moving object vary over time. A point or object going straight ahead is accelerated when it accelerates or decelerates. Even if the speed is constant, motion on a circle accelerates because the direction is always shifting. Both effects contribute to the acceleration for all other motions.

Acceleration is a vector quantity since it has both a magnitude and a direction. A vector quantity is also velocity. The velocity vector change during a time interval divided by the time interval is the definition of acceleration. The limit of the ratio of the change in velocity during a given time interval to the time interval as the time interval approaches zero determines the instantaneous acceleration (at a specific time and location) (see analysis: Instantaneous rates of change). For instance, acceleration will be stated in metres per second per second if velocity is expressed in meters per second.

## What is meant by acceleration?

Acceleration is like the angry, fire-breathing dragon of motion variables in comparison to displacement and velocity. It can be dangerous, some people find it frightening, and if it’s large, it makes you pay attention. You can feel yourself accelerating in scenarios like sitting in a plane during takeoff, slamming on the brakes in a car, or speeding around a corner in a go-kart.

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Any procedure where the velocity varies is referred to as acceleration. There are only two ways to accelerate: changing your speed or changing your direction, or changing both. This is because velocity is both a speed and a direction.

No matter how quickly you’re moving, you can’t possibly be accelerating if you’re not also altering your direction and speed. As a result, even if a jet is traveling at a high rate of speed—in this case, 800 miles per hour—it experiences no acceleration because its velocity is constant. The jet will accelerate as it slows down when it lands and swiftly comes to a stop. [What the heck?]

You might also consider it in this manner. In a car, accelerating may be accomplished by applying the gas pedal or the brakes, both of which would result in a change in speed. However, you could also turn by turning the steering wheel, which would reverse your momentum.

## What about acceleration is unclear?

I must forewarn you that one of the first truly challenging concepts in physics is acceleration. People’s lack of acceleration intuition isn’t the issue. A lot of people do have an understanding for acceleration, but regrettably, this intuition is frequently incorrect. It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, as Mark Twain once said. What you are certain of is what is simply untrue.

The mistaken assumption is typically along these lines: “Acceleration and velocity are essentially the same thing, right?” Wrong. People frequently mistakenly believe that if an object’s velocity is high, then its acceleration must likewise be high. Or they believe that if an object’s velocity is low, its acceleration must also be low. That, though, “simply ain’t so.” The acceleration is independent of the velocity at any particular time. In other words, whether I’m travelling slowly or quickly at the moment, my velocity can be changing rapidly.

Find the category in the accompanying chart that best fits each case to help you get to the conclusion that the magnitude of the velocity does not affect the acceleration.

I wish I could say that the fallacy about acceleration was the only one, but there is really another, more harmful misconception at play here, and it has to do with whether the acceleration is positive or negative.

People often assume that if an object’s acceleration is negative, it is slowing down, and if it is positive, it is speeding up. Wrong. Positive acceleration can cause an object to slow down, whereas negative acceleration can cause an object to accelerate. How does this work? Consider the fact that the vector of acceleration points in the same general direction as the vector of velocity change. This means that whether you add to or subtract from the velocity depends on the direction of the acceleration. According to mathematics, a negative acceleration indicates that the velocity will be subtracted from, and a positive acceleration indicates that the velocity will be increased.

The object will be moving faster if the acceleration and velocity are pointing in the same direction. The object will also slow down if the acceleration is pointing in the opposite direction as the velocity. Check out the accelerations in the diagram below, as a car either chases after a donut or inadvertently gets stuck in the mud. The velocity is positive whenever the car is travelling to the right and negative whenever the car is moving to the left, presuming rightward is positive. While a car is speeding up, the acceleration points in the same direction as the velocity; when it is slowing down, it points in the other direction. [I don’t understand.]

The item will be speeding up if the acceleration has the same sign as the velocity, to put it another way. The item will also slow down if the acceleration has the opposite sign of the velocity.

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## What Constant Acceleration Means

A moving object can occasionally alter its velocity by the same amount every second. The data table above depicts an item altering its velocity by 10 m/s every second, as was described in the paragraph above. Since the velocity is changing by a fixed amount every second, this is known as a constant acceleration. It is important to distinguish between an item with a constant acceleration and one with a constant velocity. Be not deceived! An object is accelerating if its velocity is changing, whether by a fixed amount or a variable amount. Additionally, an object moving at a constant speed is not accelerating.

Sometimes when a person is moving quickly, sports announcers will suggest that the person is accelerating. But speed has nothing to do with acceleration. Even when traveling very quickly, a person may not be accelerating. Changing the speed at which an object is travelling is what acceleration is all about. A substance is not accelerating if its velocity is not changing. The information on the right depicts an object that is speeding as it moves northward. Throughout time, the velocity is shifting. In actuality, the velocity is changing by a fixed rate of 10 m/s every second. An object is said to be accelerating whenever its velocity is changing; it has an acceleration.