Central Force


Central Force, in physics, refers to a force that acts on every particle of the system, with the same magnitude and direction. Central forces are encountered often in physics, particularly when studying celestial mechanics and electromagnetism, where they appear as gravity and Coulomb’s law, respectively.

In this tutorial, we will discuss what a central force is and how it works.

What is Central Force?

A central force is a force that emanates from a single source and acts on all particles in a system. This force acts as an attractor on other objects that are nearby, like gravity and electromagnetism. The term central refers to the fact that these forces can originate from the center of an object, rather than its edge or surface, just like the word center refers to the middle of something.


One of the most well-known examples of a central force comes from Isaac Newton’s law of universal gravitation, which says that all objects with mass in the universe exert a gravitational force on one another that is directly proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to the square of their distances apart; these properties are common to any central force.

The concept of central forces was introduced by French mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange in 1788 as an extension of Newton’s laws of motion. In Lagrange’s formulation, forces are not dependent on where an object is located within a system; they only depend on its mass and position relative to other objects within that system.

Equation of Central Force

The mathematical equation of central force is as follows:

F = F(r) r^


F = Conservative central force

r = Vector magnitude |r| is the distance to the center of force.

r^ = r/r


r^=r/r is a unit vector in the direction of r.

The central force is a conservative force, represented as follows:

$\mathrm{F(r)\:=\:dU / dr}$


F(r) is the magnitude of the central force.

U(r) is time-independent potential energy.

To result in the particle's motion being uniformly circular under the central force, the centripetal force should be as follows:



m = mass of the body

v = speed at which the centripetal force equation holds

r = Original Radius

Types of Motions in Central Force

The Central Force is comprised of two different types of motions:

  • Bounded motion
  • Unbounded motion.

Let’s have a look.

Bounded Motion

Bounded motion is a special property of a central force. It means that an object under its influence can only travel along a conic section. A conic section is any curve traced out by a plane slicing through a cone. The standard orbits of central forces are ellipses, parabolas, and hyperbolas. These three curves are all examples of conic sections.


One example is the motion of the planets around the sun. All of these objects follow elliptical orbits because they are affected by a central force (gravity). In fact, every planet in our solar system follows an elliptical orbit around our star.

Unbounded Motion

During the initial and final phases of this motion, the distance between the two bodies or objects is infinite. The force of attraction that keeps them together is not constant; it varies with time. This type of motion was studied by Sir Isaac Newton and his contemporary Gottfried Leibniz.


Q1. In which factors do central forces depend?

Ans: A Central Force is one that depends only upon the distance between two objects and not upon their intrinsic properties. It is also called an Attractive or Repulsive force depending upon whether it attracts or repels objects towards each other or away from each other, respectively.

Q2. What is the Central Force? Are all Conservative forces central?

Ans: In physics, a central force is a force that acts on a body due to its position with respect to others in a system of bodies. When used without qualification, it usually means central gravitational force. When defined more broadly, however, it can also refer to other forces that act on bodies because of their relative positions.

According to classical mechanics, we think of an object as either a central or conservative force. All forces can be described as central forces or conservative forces. But not all central forces are conservative and not all conservative forces are central.

Q3. What is the purpose of an elliptical orbit around the sun that does not have a constant angular momentum?

Ans: An elliptical orbit is defined by two extreme points at which an object passes in its transit. A central force is any phenomenon that attracts or repels a celestial body towards another celestial body. The Sun exerts a central force on all planets and other objects that orbit it, creating elliptical orbits.

This can be seen through Newton’s law of universal gravitation. It states that every particle attracts every other particle with a force proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to their distance squared from each other. This results in elliptical orbits around the sun for all objects because they are not infinitely massive (as would be required for circular motion) but are subject to gravitational forces from both ends of their orbit.

Q4. What are some examples of central force?

Ans: Following are some examples of central force:

  • Projectile Motion: Projectile motion is the best example of central motion. This motion is any motion of an object in which gravity is a significant force. In everyday terms, a projectile is an object thrown or shot at some target (such as in sports or games).

  • Simple harmonic Motion: It is an example of central motion. The point mass (the particle) moves in a circle around a fixed point. The force that causes it to move in a circle comes from a single source (the center). In other words, there is only one force acting on it. This type of motion is also called uniform circular motion or simple harmonic motion.

  • Force due to Gravitation: The gravitational force between two bodies is proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to the square of their separation. It is also directed along a line that passes through both bodies and is bisected by their center of mass.


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