A Graphical Approach: Head-To-Tail
We will first show you a graphical method, called "head-to-tail, to add together two concurrent vectors.
The terms "head" and "tail" are labeled as shown:
Concurrent vectors share a common starting point.
As you view the animation shown below, note that the "tail" or start of the first vector is initially placed at the origin of the co-ordinate system. At its "head" you initially place a second "imaginary" co-ordinate, or reference, system, and then the "tail" of the second vector. If a third vector were to be added, another imaginary co-ordinate system would be placed at the head of the second vector and the tail of the third vector would begin there.
The green vector represents the sum of the two vectors, or the resultant. It begins at the origin of the original co-ordinate both ends and points towards the head of the last vector being added. The length of the resultant is called it magnitude, the angle that the resultant makes with the original x-axis is called its direction.
You would use the Pythagorean Theorem to mathematically calculate the resultant's magnitude. To determine its directional angle, θ, you would use the trig function tangent. Let's use this method to answer some questions about a child's journey between two houses in which he ran 10 meters North and then 10 meters West. We can readily tell that the distance he traveled was 20 meters, but what was his displacement? Was it equal to 20 meters, less than 20 meters, or greater than 20 meters? To determine his actual displacement we need to draw a "head-to-tail" diagram of his trip and calculate his resultant. The magnitude of his resultant vector equals the length of the hypotenuse in the diagram shown above. As you can see, his displacement was less than the actual distance he traveled. It was 14.1 meters in a direction of 45º W of N. We know the angle must equal 45º since we are working in an isosceles right triangle. |