www.whyville.net Aug 30, 2006 Weekly Issue

Guest Writer

The How-Do of Rollercoasters

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Rollercoasters: You've all probably been on at least one. There's Paramount Canada's Wonderland (the amusement park I go to, because I'm Canadian!), Six Flags, The Exhibition . . . wherever you go, you can be sure to find a gravity-defying coaster.

So how does a line of little carts moving on tracks create this adrenaline-pumping, exciting ride?

First of all, coasters move because of gravity and inertia.


The natural force of attraction exerted by a celestial body, such as Earth, upon objects at or near its surface, tending to draw them toward the center of the body.

Meaning, the center of a large planet, star, etc., draws objects and things with mass towards the center. But you already knew this.


The tendency of a body to maintain its state of rest or uniform motion unless acted upon by an external force.

Meaning, once it starts, it won't stop unless something makes it stop, such as going uphill, etc.

At the beginning of the ride, the lift hill is the only exertion of energy, wherein the train is pulled up hill. Once it's at the very top, it is at its point of highest potential energy. When it drops, the potential energy lowers as it moves closer to the ground, but it's kinetic energy increases.

Potential Energy:

The energy that exists in a body as a result of its position or condition rather than of its motion.

Meaning, a coiled spring has potential energy, but is not necessarily moving. It has potential to move on its own.

Kinetic Energy:

The energy possessed by a body because of its motion.

Meaning, the faster it's going, the more kinetic energy it has.

Quick experiment: Hold an object (unbreakable, haha) above the ground. It has potential energy to move without you moving it ??? but it's not necessarily moving. Drop it, and catch is halfway between dropping point and the ground. As it was moving, it had kinetic energy. But once it stopped, the potential energy was lower than it has been. Drop it again, and let it his the ground. Now it has NO potential energy, and NO kinetic energy.

Back to rollercoasters. Once the train starts going down the lift hill, its kinetic energy increases. And then, because of inertia, it stays in motion (swooping down hills and flying through loop-di-loops) until something like going uphill makes it slow down again.

Didn't get a part of this article? It's true, there are some complicated words and meanings. Here's a summary: A rollercoaster cart is pulled uphill. Once it's at the top of the hill, the only place for it to go is down, down, down, down. After it goes down (gravity pulls it) it goes so fast that is can whiz through loops and up hills and through corkscrews and other scary twists and turns, until something at the end of the ride makes the cart stop.

Happy riding!


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