What is speed in physics? Definition,Types, Formula & Units

Speed is an important topic in physics. You must have heard this word many times during your lower class studies,

but you didn’t have an idea till then what is speed and maybe then this topic was not so important for you,

hence there was not much discussion about it in your classes and hence you did not know enough about it as much as you should have.

Don’t worry, in this tutorial, I will discuss all about what you need to know. As well as I will also explain some formulas using examples which will make it understandable easy way.

Ok, let’s know first what is speed in physics.

What is speed in physics?

It is a measurement format that measures how much time it takes for an object to travel a certain distance. It is a scalar quantity that only considers magnitude, and direction does not matter here. 

Usually, it is measured in specific units and maybe meters per second (m/s), kilometers per hour (km/h), or sometimes miles per hour (mph).

Types Of Speed

There are various types of speed depending on the context in which it is used. Here are given some examples:-

Uniform:- This is when an object covers equal distances in equal time intervals means that the object maintains a constant throughout its motion.

Variable:- This occurs when an object covers different distances at equal intervals of time. In this case, the object’s speed changes during its motion *.

Average:- This is the total distance traveled by an object divided by the total time taken. It is an overall measurement of how fast an object is moving over a given period.

Instantaneous:- This occurs when an object at a specific moment in time. It is calculated by determining the object’s speed at a particular instant .*

Formula

Formula for speed is so simple (distance/time). It calculates the rate at which an object covers a certain distance .

As I told you earlier it can be measured in various units, such as meters per second (m/s), kilometers per hour (km/h), or miles per hour (mph)

To calculate it you have to divide the distance traveled by the time taken. Let’s make it easy with an example, if an object travels a distance of 120 meters in 2 hours, you can calculate the speed by following this given formula:-

Speed = [ Distance / Time ]
=========================
Speed = [ 120m / 2 hours = 60 mph ]

Similar way, you can rearrange the formula to calculate distance or time if you have the two values. Here are the rearranged formulas given below:-

Distance = [ Speed x Time ]

=====================

Time = [ Distance / Speed ]

Here:-
Speed is the magnitude of the object’s velocity,
whereas Distance is the total path length moved by the object,
Time explores the duration taken to cover that distance.

Here are given few examples:-

Example 1: Q). What is the speed if you travel 4000 meters in 40 minutes?
Speed = Distance / Time
Speed = 4000 / (40 x 60) = 1.67 m/s .

Example 2: Q). How far did a train travel at a speed of 80 mph for 2.5 hours? Distance = Speed x Time
Distance = 80 mph x 2.5 hours = 200 miles

Understanding the Formula

Distance as [d]:- This refers to the total path length traveled by an object. Distance can be measured in meters (m) – kilometers (km) – miles (mi), or any other standard unit of length.

Time as [t]:- Time represents the duration it takes for the object to cover the specified distance. The unit of time is typically seconds (s), but it can also be measured in minutes – hours, or other appropriate standard time units.

Let’s take an example to simplify the concept

Suppose, a car travels a distance of 200 kilometers in 4 hours. So, what will be its speed Let’s solve it using this formula:-

Speed =200 km/4h = 50 km/h
In this example, the car’s speed is 50 kilometers per hour.

Significance

It is so important in fields like transportation, sports and technology.  From analyzing the speed of vehicles on the road to optimizing data transfer rates in computer networks. 

Note:- It should always be considered in conjunction with other factors, such as safety, regulations, and specific requirements of different activities.

Remember, it is not just about velocity; it represents the rate of change and the ability to cover distance in a given time frame.

With understanding it effectively, we can achieve greater efficiency, productivity, and progress in various technical aspects.

Difference Between Speed and Motion

Generally, both the above terms may feel the same as their meaning, but there is some basic difference between them. As I mentioned earlier:-  

Speed is a scalar quantity that measures how an object is moving fast. It is the rate of time at which an object covers a distance. it does not take into account the direction, but only the magnitude.

Whereas, Motion refers to the change in position of an object over time and It involves both speed and direction. 

Now, let them understand in a better way with a comparison in a table format:-

CharacteristicSpeedMotion
DefinitionIt is the rate at which an object moves through a distance. It is a scalar quantity measured in units like meters per second (m/s) or kilometers per hour (km/h).In a single word, it is the change in position of an object with respect to its surroundings.
Scalar or VectorIt is a scalar quantity, meaning it only has magnitude (numerical value) and no direction.It is a vector quantity, as it includes both magnitude (distance) and direction.
RepresentationIt is typically represented by a single numerical value (e.g., 50 m/s).It is represented by a position-time graph or a vector (distance and direction) in physics.
UnitsUnits of it include meters per second (m/s), kilometers per hour (km/h), miles per hour (mph), etc.It is described using distance units (e.g., meters, kilometers) and time units (e.g., seconds, hours).
ExampleIf a car is moving at a speed of 60 km/h, it tells us how fast the car is moving.If an object travels 100 meters east in 10 seconds, its motion is described.
Relationship with TimeIt is the distance traveled per unit of time.It involves the change in position over a specific period.
DirectionDoes not indicate direction.Involves both distance and direction of movement.

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