Centripetal and Centrifugal Forces: Difference and Similarities

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centripetal and centrifugal forces

When we talk about circular motion, the two concepts of centripetal and centrifugal force play an important factor. Now, force is the invisible hand that tells, why and how an object is moving. It is a push or a pull that can cause an object to change its state of rest or motion, in simple terms, movement of the object. Force has both strength and direction that influence the object’s acceleration. In this blog, we will talk about the differences between centripetal and centrifugal force and also their similarities. Scroll further down to know more.

What is Centripetal and Centrifugal Force?

Let us get to know about them in the context of circular motion – 

  1. Centripetal Force – In Latin, Centripetal force means “center-seeking”. It is a genuine force that acts on an object by pulling them inwards i.e. towards the center of the circle. The strength of this inward pull depends on the object’s mass and its speed. A heavier object or a faster speed necessitates a stronger centripetal force to maintain a stable circular path.
  1. Centripetal Force – In Latin, centrifugal force means “center-fleeing”. It is not a real force and is therefore called by the name Pseudo force. The force is a fake sensation that is experienced by an observer within a rotating reference frame. This force behaves as if it is throwing the object outward from the center of the circle. It arises due to inertia, the natural tendency of objects to resist changes in their state of motion. In essence, you are not being pushed outwards; it is your body’s inertia trying to maintain a straight-line motion while you are forced to follow the circular path of the platform.

Difference Between Centripetal and Centrifugal Force

Centripetal force is the real driving force behind circular motion, while centrifugal force is a perceived consequence of that motion experienced in a rotating frame of reference. The difference between the Centripetal and Centrifugal forces are presented in tabular form – 

FeatureCentripetal ForceCentrifugal Force
NatureReal forceFake force (pseudo force)
DirectionTowards the center of the circleAway from the center of the circle
Reference FrameInertial reference frame (still observer)Non-inertial reference frame (rotating observer)
ExamplesGravity, tension, frictionFeeling on a merry-go-round, feeling when a car turns
Keeps objects in orbitKeeps objects in orbitA sensation of being pushed outwards
Depends on mass, speed, and radiusDepends on mass, speed, and radiusNot Applicable
Needed for circular motionNeeded for circular motionNot Applicable
ExamplesExamples: Earth’s orbit, swinging a ballExamples: Feeling on rides, car turning
Maintains balanceMaintains balanceCreates a feeling of imbalance
Essential for understanding motionEssential for understanding motionHelps us understand inertia
centripetal and centrifugal forces

Similarities Between Centripetal and Centrifugal Force

Both centripetal and centrifugal force are two sides of the same coin, one pulls inwards and the other throws out. The similarities between Centripetal and Centrifugal Force are – 

1. Both are related to circular motion: Both concepts come into play when discussing an object moving in a circular path.

2. Counteract each other (indirectly): While not directly opposing forces, centripetal force acts as a real pull inwards, and centrifugal force (a perceived outward push) indirectly counteracts the tendency of the object to move in a straight line due to inertia.

3. Not directly measurable: Neither centripetal nor centrifugal force can be directly measured with a single instrument. They are derived from the analysis of the object’s motion and the forces acting on it.

4.  Dependent on object’s mass and speed: Although centripetal force is a real force and centrifugal force is not, both depend on the object’s mass and speed in a circular path. A higher mass or speed requires a stronger centripetal force to maintain the circular motion, and consequently, a stronger perceived centrifugal force.

5. Can be modelled mathematically: Both centripetal force and the concept of centrifugal force can be modelled mathematically using equations that relate them to the object’s mass, speed and the radius of the circular path.


What is the difference between centripetal force and centrifugal force?

First, let us talk about Centripetal Force. Centripetal forces are the forces that move objects away from a center of mass. For example, you can move a car, or you can move a person. Centrifugal force is a force that moves objects towards or around a center of mass.

What is the formula for centripetal vs centrifugal?

The formula for Centrifugal Force and Centripetal Force is F = ma / mv2 / r (ac = cm / mv2), where m is the mass of an object moving at velocity ‘v’ on a path with curvature radius (r).

What is the SI unit of centripetal force?

Centripetal force SI unit is Newton. Using Newton’s 2nd law of motion, we can see that centripetal forces moving in a circular motion always move toward the center of the circle.

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Hope this blog helps you understand centripetal and centrifugal force. Keep reading more of our blogs to learn about the basic concepts of Physics!

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