I know that for a rigid body rotating around a fixed axis, the angular velocity of any point with respect to any other point is the same. As a result, the angular velocity is the same for any choice of axis attached to the body as long as that axis is perpendicular to the rotational plane. But how about the angular velocity about an axis outside of (or not atttached to) the body? It is still the same as that of the axis inside of the body? If not, is there a general equation relating the two?


1 Answer 1


Imagine that the rigid body is fixed in the $Oxy$ co-ordinate plane. The rigid body need not overlap the origin $O$. If the co-ordinate plane is rotated (eg about the origin $O$) then every line in the plane rotates through the same angle, regardless of its position. Each of the two points at the ends of any line rotates through the same angle about the other. This is true whether the two points both lie inside the rigid body, or one inside and one outside, or both outside.

Angular velocity is the rate of rotation, so what is true about angles applies also for angular velocity.

Consequently, when an axis is chosen outside of a rigid body, the angular velocity is only the same as that measured within the rigid body if the axis rotates as though it were part of the rigid body. For example, the whole co-ordinate plane could be regarded as a rigid body which has finite density inside the region occupied by the object of interest and zero density outside of the object in the rest of the plane.

The constant angular velocity $\omega$ between two points within the rigid body is intrinsic to the rigid body. It does not hold between two points one inside and one outside of the rigid body.

If the external axis (origin $O$) rotates relative to the rigid body this is equivalent to the rigid body rotating relative to the co-ordinate system $Oxy$. In this case, in general the angular velocity $\Omega_P$ of a point $P$ within the rigid body relative to $O$ is not only different from the intrinsic angular velocity $\omega$ within the rigid body, it is also not constant.

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Suppose some point $C$ within the rigid body is at rest (perhaps instantaneously) in the $Oxy$ frame. Any point $P$ within the rigid body rotates about $C$ with constant angular velocity $\omega$. The angular velocity $\Omega_P$ of $P$ about $O$ varies as $P$ rotates about $C$. At $P_1, P_3$ the velocity of $P$ is aligned with the vector $OP$, so $\Omega_P$ is zero. At $P_2, P_4$ the point $P$ is aligned with vector $OC$ and $\Omega_P$ reaches a local maximum.

If the centre of rotation $C$ is rotating about $O$ then $\Omega_P$ is even more difficult to calculate except in special cases. One special case is when $C$ rotates about $O$ with the same angular velocity $\omega$ with which $P$ rotates about $C$. Then the angular velocity $\Omega_P=\omega$.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much for your answer. But what if the axis is not rotating along with the body? Will the angular velocity be too complicated to find? Or is it not defined? $\endgroup$ Mar 15, 2017 at 23:42
  • $\begingroup$ Yes it is defined. No it is not too difficult to calculate. See eg en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2017 at 0:22
  • $\begingroup$ I think I see it now. The angular velocity of a rigid body about an external stationary axis consists of two parts : the angular "spin" velocity of the object(which is the same for any point rotating along with the object) plus the angular "rotational" velocity of its center of mass about the axis of our choice. Did I get it right? Can you please confirm it? Also, thank you again! $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2017 at 1:02
  • $\begingroup$ I think my comment above is not quite correct : the angular velocity wrt an external origin is not easy to calculate and is not even constant. I shall edit my answer. $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2017 at 1:09
  • $\begingroup$ @sammygerbil i know you answered this long back. But I have a question. So angular velocity of various points on the body is different about a stationary point outside the body. But can we define a term called as the angular velocity for whole BODY not a specific point for such case? $\endgroup$
    Nov 21, 2018 at 12:43

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