I am currently studying high school physics (I'm in the first year of high school).
The force of tension initially seemed to be a simple concept, but unfortunately has proved rather challenging to fully understand, impairing my ability to understand problems such as the one I will discuss here.
My question here revolves more around the "why" than the "how"; that is, I could probably solve tension problems on a test, but that doesn't mean I'd understand why things worked the way they did.
I hope that someone may be able to provide me with an explanation of the following problem that goes back to the basics of tension.
Here's a diagram of the problem. It's based on an experiment we did in class:
Note that the surface is assumed to be frictionless. Also note that I have assigned a positive and negative direction using that arrow and the plus sign. There are two masses, A and B (A on the track, B hanging). There is a rope tying them together that passes over a pulley. I have added in the free-body force diagrams for each mass that I was told were correct.
When we did the experiment in class, the blocks were only motionless when someone was holding block A back. But when it was let go (and that is the situation represented by the diagram I displayed) the whole system accelerated in the positive direction (I have assigned that positive and negative direction to make discussing the problem easier).
The question is, "What is the net force in the entire system (both blocks)?" In other words, what is causing the movement?
(I have also been told that the blocks will have the same magnitude of acceleration. Why is this?)
Anyway, I've been told that the net force is the force of gravity on mass B (the hanging one). But I don't really understand why, even after extensive discussion with various people.
Looking back at those force diagrams: I understand that the force of normal and weight of mass A cancel out, so the only remaining force is tension. And I understand that mass B has tension and weight acting on it.
But here's where it gets tricky:
The tension on A is apparently pulling it in the positive direction, while the tension on B is pulling it in the negative direction. Do those opposite tensions cancel one another, causing force of gravity to become the net force? There must be some sort of cancellation in play, I figure, because I've been told that when all the forces are summed, you just end up with force of gravity propelling the system.
Some questions I've been asking myself about this have been:
How does the relationship between the force of gravity on mass B and the tension in the rope play into this? Isn't the tension caused by that force of gravity? Doesn't that mean that if tensions cancel, the force of gravity's effect is canceled as well?
Does the pulley affect tensions? For example, we know that there's a positive tension affecting mass A. Is there still a positive tension in existence on the other side of the pulley, or just the negative tension that's acting on B? Might there be some sort of effect whereby two sets of opposite tensions, one set on each side of the pulley, cancel each other out?
If you pick any and all points on the rope, would there be two opposing tensions at every one of those points?
Is tension uniform throughout the rope?
How might differences in mass between object A and object B (which, sorry if the diagram was misleading in the sizes, can have any mass) play into the tension?
As you can see, my basic tension understanding is really rather weak. I've been told that ropes can only pull, not push, etc., and simple things like that have guided me this far, but I've run into some roadblocks in my understanding.
I know this is a very long question but any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.