Centripetal Force: Definition, Units, Example

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what is Centripetal force

When an object is in motion, it requires force to move and the way force affects objects varies based on their type of motion. When an object is in circular motion, its velocity also changes continuously, because there is the presence of a force that helps in its circular movement. These forces are known as centripetal and centrifugal forces and it is essential for maintaining the object’s circular path. In this blog, we will learn more about what is Centripetal force along with its definition, the unit and daily examples.

What is Centripetal Force?

Centripetal force is derived from the Latin words “centrum” (center) and “petere” (to seek), which means “centre-seeking force”. It is a force that acts on an object in a circular motion while pulling it inwards towards the center of the circle. 


“The force acting on an object that is in the curvilinear motion and the force is directed toward the centre of the curvature of the path of the object is called the Centripetal Force.”

This definition focuses on the core aspects:

  1. Direction: It always points directly towards the center of the circular path.
  2. Magnitude: The strength of the force depends on several factors, including the object’s mass, its speed, and the radius of the circle.
  3. Real Force: Unlike centrifugal force (which we’ll explore later), centripetal force is a genuine force. It has a measurable effect on the object’s motion, causing it to accelerate inwards.

Also Read – Balanced Force: Definition, Example and Characteristics

How to Calculate Centripetal Force?

The strength of the force can be calculated by – 

F= m × v2/r

Centripetal force = mass x velocity2 / radius


m  = Mass of the object. A  heavier object (larger mass) requires a stronger force to keep it moving in a circle at the same speed.

v = Velocity of the object. The faster the object moves (higher velocity), the stronger the force needs to be to maintain its circular path.

r = Radius of the object. For a given speed, a smaller radius circle requires a stronger force to keep the object from flying outwards.

Unit of Centripetal Force

The centripetal force unit is Newton. Since Newton (N) is the unit of force in the International System of Units (SI), and it represents the product of mass (kg) and acceleration (m/s²), it perfectly fits the calculation for this force. Centripetal force always moves in the opposite direction of the direction of motion of the object. Newton’s second law of motion shows that centripetal forces moving in a circular motion always move in the direction of the centre of the circle.

Also Read – Non-Contact Force: Types, Examples & More

Example of Centripetal Force 

Some day-to-day examples are –

  1. Whipping a Dough Ball: When you spin pizza dough in the air to stretch it, your hand acts as the centre. The dough stretches outwards because of inertia, but the force you exert through your hand pulls it inwards – that is this force working!
  1. Riding a Ferris Wheel: As the Ferris wheel rotates, the seats (and you) move in a circle. The metal bars holding the seats act as the centripetal force, constantly pulling you inwards and preventing you from flying off at the top of the ride.
  1. Spinning a Clothesline: The spin cycle in a washing machine uses this force (gravity in this case) to push water outwards through the clothes. The faster you spin a wet clothesline, the tighter the clothes become. The force, in this case, the tension in the clothesline, pulls the wet clothes inwards as they try to move outwards due to inertia.
  1. Car on a Curved Road: When a car takes a turn, the tyres experience friction with the road. This friction acts as the force that pushes the car inwards and keeps it on its curved path despite its tendency to move in a straight line.
  1. Water in a Bucket: Imagine swinging a bucket of water in a circle. The water stays inside because the bottom of the bucket exerts a centripetal force on the water, pushing it inwards and counteracting its inertia that would otherwise try to fling it outwards.


What is the centripetal force class 11 formula?

The formula for centripetal force is f =mv2/r. The unit of the force is kgms−2 or newton.

What is centripetal force example class 10?

For example, let’s say you’re spinning your yo-yo in a circular motion. The force exerted by your hand will cause your yo-yo to move, and the pull on the string will cause it to move in a circular motion as you spin it. This pull on the string is called Centripetal Force.

Is gravity a centripetal force?

When there is a satellite in a planet’s orbit, gravity is assumed to be centripetal, although, in eccentric orbits, gravitational attraction is applied to the centre of curvature, not to the centre of instantaneous curvature.

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

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