Kinetic Energy

In physics, what's the term for the energy an object has because of its motion?

And the answer: kinetic.

Photo credit: Martina Nolte via Wikimedia Commons. 

There are several main types of energy, including thermal, electromagnetic, and mechanical. Kinetic energy is the kind that an object has because of its motion, and it can be transferred from one moving object to another.

Anything that moves has kinetic energy. The faster the object goes, the more kinetic energy it creates. However, every object capable of movement also possesses another kind of energy: potential. Potential energy is the energy stored in an object due to its position. For example, if you hold a ball above your head, the energy stored is potential until the ball is dropped, in which case it becomes kinetic energy.

Beyond the general categorical definition of kinetic energy, there is a wide range of further clarifying distinctions. Rotational kinetic energy refers to an object that moves in circles, such as the sun or another planetary body. Vibrational kinetic energy indicates an object whose movement comes from (you guessed it) vibrations, while translational kinetic energy refers to the energy an object possesses moving from one point to another.

Kinetic energy depends on mass and velocity, and can be observed in a wide range of contexts in every day life. For one, hydropower plants use kinetic energy in moving water to harness electrical power. When the moving water hits the turbine present in the dam, the kinetic energy of the water gets converted into mechanical energy. This mechanical energy moves the turbines and then, ultimately, it leads to the production of electrical energy. Another example of kinetic energy at work includes wind mills, which use the kinetic energy of wind to generate power.

Learn more about the energy that powers movement below.

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