When you rotate a bottle which has only one ball inside the ball moves to one end of the bottle. However in case of two balls both the balls move to different ends.

The people that I have asked have told me that centripetal force is responsible for it. But if that was the reason then the balls could have easily moved together to one end of the bottle.

Others have told me that stability is responsible for the separation. If that was the case then when only one ball was placed in the bottle the ball should have stayed at the center of mass of the system.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Do they? Can you show this happening? $\endgroup$ – sammy gerbil Jun 20 '18 at 15:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The balls are tennis balls. The same would not be observed for small and light balls like ping pong balls. $\endgroup$ – anant virk Jun 20 '18 at 15:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If I understand correctly, you are saying that if you put two balls in a cylinder and then you rotate it, say, with respect to the center of the cylinder (I guess parallel to the floor) both balls will go in different directions. is that the question? If so, then you have of course a false assumption. The balls will go to one extreme or the other depending on the initial conditions (of each ball!). When both are around the middle of the tube, since they cannot be in exactly the same place, each will be closer to each of the ends and then each ball will go to a different end. $\endgroup$ – myradio Jun 20 '18 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ myradio: no the cylinder is held vertically. $\endgroup$ – anant virk Jun 22 '18 at 6:45

One way to look at this is to understand that the system will tend to move to a point of lower potential energy.

If we roll a ball on a surface, we expect it to end up at the bottom of a valley, not the top of a hill, because that is the lowest potential energy. Even if it starts at the top of a hill, we don't assume symmetry is a reason for it not to fall at all. That instead some minor (but unmodeled) forces are sufficient to nudge it in one direction or another.

In a rotating system, potential energy is higher when the mass is toward the center rather than when the mass is radially distant from the center. Mass near the center that can move will lose potential energy by moving away.

When the balls are "light" compared to the bottle, then it's not a big deal. Both balls can move to (the same) edge of the system and be in a nice local minimum state.

When the balls are massive, this can't happen because the center of mass must remain near the balls. If you had a fixed axis at the center of the tube, they could move to one end. But when it is freely rotating, the axis is through the center of mass, which is influenced significantly by the location of the balls.

So when both massive balls are together, they are necessarily near the center of rotation. The only way for them to move to a lower potential energy state is to separate.

The other way to look at this is that if both balls are on one side of the spinning axis, they will tend to stay there. (It would take energy to move one up to the axis to then go past). The larger and more massive the balls (with respect to the bottle), the closer the axis must be to them. For the case of tennis balls in a light plastic tube, you can't arrange for both balls to be on the same side of the axis. So that situation is unstable. For two ping-pong balls in a heavy bottle, you can, so that configuration is (meta)stable.

  • $\begingroup$ In a rotating system, potential energy is higher when the mass is toward the center rather than when the mass is radially distant from the center. In a sun-and-planet gravitational system, or hydrogen-like atom, potential energy is lower when the masses are closer together. In the situation you describe - two balls in a horizontal tube which is rotating - how does potential energy change? $\endgroup$ – sammy gerbil Jun 20 '18 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ In the rotating frame, centrifugal forces appear that push masses away from the spin axis. Potential energy is lost as masses move in the direction of these forces (outward). In a planet/atom, this is true as well, but the forces usually only modify the actions of stronger electrical or gravitational forces rather than dominating them as they do in the tennis ball tube. $\endgroup$ – BowlOfRed Jun 20 '18 at 19:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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