In a book I was reading about SHM it stated:

If the length of a simple pendulum is increased to such an extent that $\ell\to\infty$, then its time period is given by,

$$T=2\pi\sqrt\frac{R}{g}\approx84.6\text{ min}$$

Now I have many confusions like:

  1. Doesn't the gravity change with such a large length and amplitude?

  2. How can an infinitely long pendulum have a confined time period?

  3. Some parts near the end may have a velocity greater than light.

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    $\begingroup$ We'll need more information to answer. What book and what page? $\endgroup$ Apr 4, 2019 at 7:19
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    $\begingroup$ This period looks like the one of an object constrained to a straight line that passes through Earth. But that's a different kind of pendulum than what we normally call a simple pendulum. $\endgroup$ Apr 4, 2019 at 7:19
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    $\begingroup$ What you have written is false. Simple as that. The period of a simple pendulum is proportional to the square root of its length. And that's ignoring relativistic effects (as well as the non-homogeneity of Earth's gravitational field, which kicks in much sooner), which provide a lower bound of $T = \Omega(l * \phi_{max})$. $\endgroup$ Apr 4, 2019 at 7:22
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    $\begingroup$ you might think you've given all the relevant information, but just humor the two @john s and give us the page and title of book. $\endgroup$
    – innisfree
    Apr 4, 2019 at 7:25
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    $\begingroup$ The OP’s statement is totally correct, but, uh, as usual for low-quality textbooks, it is stated extremely unclearly. This question shouldn’t be closed. $\endgroup$
    – knzhou
    Apr 4, 2019 at 8:36

2 Answers 2


I have also studied this relation. May be things get clearer in my explanation: For a general pendulum, it is obvious that if the l is substituted to a large value the time period corresponding also increases. For a pendulum of very large length(comparable to radius of earth), we have to make a change in derivation. An assumption which is valid only for small lengths. That is: For small pendulums, on small angular displacement, the corresponding linear displacement is very small. The force of gravity (causing restoring torque) can be assumed to be vertically downwards. But for a hypothetical large pendulum, this is no more true. Even for a small angular displacement the corresponding linear distance on the ground becomes too large(if $\theta$ is the angular displacement the corresponding linear displacement is $L\theta$ where L is length of string). The force of gravity acts along line joining the Bob and centre of earth, and it is no more vertically downwards. (The angle moved by Bob with respect to centre of earth is no more negligible. It is given by $R_e \beta= L\theta. R_e$ is radius of earth ) So the problem is that the torque due to gravity is no more given by the same expression. enter image description here You can see the picture for clarification. The infinite is a hypothetical case by substituting $L=\infty$ .

Gravity as you said , is taken to be constant

  • $\begingroup$ So because of the small amplitude gravity is taken to be constant? $\endgroup$ Apr 4, 2019 at 9:37
  • $\begingroup$ The L is too large then height difference will be there, but for large values of L especially tending to infinity, the difference is not taken into account. Maybe for simplicity also changes in gravity are neglected $\endgroup$
    – Tojra
    Apr 4, 2019 at 9:42

$\def\PD#1#2{{\partial#1 \over \partial#2}}$ I would suggest a different approach. If $l$ is very large the circumference of radius $l$ becomes a straight line, tangent to a circumference centred in Earth's centre C and radius $R$. If $x$ is bob's displacement along this line, bob's distance from C is $D=\sqrt{R^2+x^2}$ and gravitational potential energy is $$V(x) = -{G\,M\,m \over D}.$$

The component of gravitational force along bob's trajectory is $$F_x = -\PD Vx = -{G\,M\,m \over R^3}\,x = -{m\,g \over R}\,x$$ and the equation of the motion is $$\ddot x = -{g \over R}\,x.$$ Then $$\omega = \sqrt{g \over R} \qquad T = 2\,\pi\,\sqrt{R \over g}.$$

  • $\begingroup$ This seems to work, Thanks! $\endgroup$ Apr 4, 2019 at 14:20

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