Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

We have a coin that is rolled such that it's tilted at an small angle $ \theta $.

Question:: What turns around rolling disc so that it traces circular motion (spiral as it's speed decreses)?

Problem statement:: In the following figure, what turns the disc so that it follows the circular path? image 1
I interpreted the problem incorrectly. Only a sliding body would have a torque like that.

share|cite|improve this question
What is $J$ here? Is torque in diagram spinning the coin? – Ankush Aug 6 '12 at 10:36
@Ankush since the coin is moving in circle ... something must continuously change the direction of the coin (so that coin follows circular path). – Santosh Linkha Aug 6 '12 at 11:01
That doesn't answer my comment. Is $J$ force you expect? If yes, why outside? The torque is misleading too. It's direction means coin is spinning. Like earth rotating. But you want answer for revolution. Right? – Ankush Aug 6 '12 at 11:18
$J$ is angular momentum. – Santosh Linkha Aug 6 '12 at 11:27
@Ankush The coin is moving in circle means it should be spinning ... with period equal to the period of circular motion. – Santosh Linkha Aug 6 '12 at 11:28
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I'm not sure if this is the dominant factor, but...

Once the coin begins to tip at all, there is torque due to gravity. If you work it out with your hands you'll see that this torque acts perpendicular to the angular momentum from the rolling of the coin and in the plane it rolls on. Thus, it acts to direct the coin in a circular path.

A quick experiment shows the coin will travel in a straight line unless it is tipped, so I think this is what's going on.

Nice pictures by the way!

share|cite|improve this answer
can you tell me if the Torque I showed in the figure is right? – Santosh Linkha Aug 4 '12 at 19:53
The torque is zero when the coin is straight up and down. – Ryan Thorngren Aug 4 '12 at 19:54
sorry ... i couldn't find the tool to rotate the disc earlier – Santosh Linkha Aug 4 '12 at 19:55
hold on ... i'm uploading another one – Santosh Linkha Aug 4 '12 at 20:05
The torque is not downward. It's in the plane the coin rolls on and perpendicular to its angular momentum. This is why it makes a circle. – Ryan Thorngren Aug 4 '12 at 20:17

Your question asks why there is a rotatory force that turns the coin to the right. The gravitational force is perpendicular to surface and so the vector cross-product of the gravitation force and the angular momentum (which is not exactly parallel to the surface) is perpendicular to both those vectors. That doesn't actually help (for me anyway). However, if you think of the leading edge and trailing edge of the coin as distinct entities, their velocities are opposite, so the leading edge experiences a resultant force (cross-product of V and g with a constraint imposed by the surface) inward and the trailing edge experiences an opposite force outward and so the coin turns to the right.

share|cite|improve this answer

Short answer: It's the geometry.

Consider a bucket which is quite stable having and has $r_{1} < r_{2}$. Note circumference $2\pi r_{1}$ is less than outer circumference $2\pi r_{2}$.Now if bucket is set into motion, the point which lies on inner circumference has to cover less distance compared to point on outer circumference. Since whole body is rigid and stable, reaction forces because of weight of object change path of object into running into circle. Note when running in circle, inner point lies close to this circle's center and thus covering less distance.

For thinner disks like coins, the effect is because of tilt. Here torque and frictional forces guide the path.

Update: Question has changed for coin case only. Consider this free body diagram. enter image description here

Here $\vec{N}$ is normal force and $\vec{G}$ is gravitational force. These two create a torque $\vec{\tau}$ about any point in the frame of reference. This $\vec{\tau}$ is perpendicular to the picture going inside (clockwise). Since coin is rolling on plane, the ground's frictional $\vec{f_{1}}$force prevents it from toppling. Had the surface been super smooth the coing will just fall and won't run in circle. Hence it's the frictional force which causes circular path.

Note $\vec{f_{1}}$ exerts equal reverse torque to prevent coin from falling. If it fails, coin will fall.

share|cite|improve this answer
can you elaborate your answer on Torque (for thinner disc)? – Santosh Linkha Aug 5 '12 at 22:38
@experimentX updated the answer. – Ankush Aug 6 '12 at 6:10
shouldn't this kind of torque make the coin fall? ... it comes towards us. – Santosh Linkha Aug 6 '12 at 9:37
and thanks for response!! – Santosh Linkha Aug 6 '12 at 9:38
@experimentX Fall: No. Because $f_{1}$ exerts reverse torque. – Ankush Aug 6 '12 at 10:04

Think of a larger object in this situation, like a motorcycle, the centrifugal force wants to keep it upright and the force of gravity want's to pull it down (in the direction it is leaning, and the centrifugal force is converted to friction in this case.) Take a look at this video.

Here are some other links to help you:

Funnel Physics

Bicycle and motorcycle dynamics

Spinning coin inside a ballon- centripetal and centrifugal forces

share|cite|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.