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Two moving objects, both possessing momentum by virtue of their mass and velocity, collide with one another. Within the system created by their collision, there is a total momentum M DV that is equal to their combined mass and the vector sum of their velocity.
This is the case with any system: the total momentum is the sum of the various individual momentum products. In terms of a formula, this is expressed as M DV = m 1 v 1 + m 2 v 2 + m 3 v 3 +…. As noted earlier, the total momentum will be conserved; however, the actual distribution of momentum within the system may change.
In a highly elastic car crash, two cars would bounce or rebound off one another. This would mean a dramatic change in direction hence, a sudden change in velocity and therefore momentum. In other words, the figure for m Dv would be high, and so would that for impulse, FnetDt.
On the other hand, it is possible to have a highly inelastic car crash, accompanied by a small change in momentum. It may seem logical to think that, in a crash situation, it would be better for two cars to bounce off one another than for them to crumple together. In fact, however, the other option is preferable. When the cars crumple rather than rebounding, they do not experience a reversal in direction. They do experience a change in speed, but the momentum change is far less than it would be if they rebounded.
Furthermore, crumpling lengthens the amount of time during which the change in velocity occurs, and thus reduces impulse. But even with the reduced impulse of this momentum change, it is possible to further reduce the effect of force, another aspect of impact. Remember that m Dv = Fnet D t : the value of force and time interval do not matter, as long as their product is equal to the momentum change. Because F and Dt are inversely proportional, an increase in impact time will reduce the effects of force.
For this reason, car manufacturers actually design and build into their cars a feature known as a crumple zone. A crumple zone is a section in which the materials are put together in such a way as to ensure that they will crumple when the car experiences a collision. Another major reason for crumple zones is to keep the passenger compartment of the car intact. Many injuries are caused when the body of the car intrudes on the space of the occupants.
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