In classical mechanics,
is a geometrical method for visualizing the torque-free motion of arotating rigid body, that is, the motion of a rigid body on which no external forces are acting. This motion has fourconstants: the kinetic energy of the body and the three components of the angular momentum, expressed with respectto an inertial laboratory frame. The angular velocity vector of the rigid rotor is
, but satisfies Euler'sequations. Without explicitly solving these equations, Louis Poinsot was able to visualize the motion of the endpointof the angular velocity vector. To this end he used the conservation of kinetic energy and angular momentum asconstraints on the motion of the angular velocity vector . If the rigid rotor is symmetric (has two equal momentsof inertia), the vector describes a cone (and its endpoint a circle). This is the torque-free precession of the rotationaxis of the rotor.
Angular kinetic energy constraint
In the absence of applied torques, the angular kinetic energy is conserved so .The angular kinetic energy may be expressed in terms of the moment of inertia tensor and the angular velocityvectorwhere are the components of the angular velocity vector along the principal axes, and the are theprincipal moments of inertia. Thus, the conservation of kinetic energy imposes a constraint on the three-dimensionalangular velocity vector ; in the principal axis frame, it must lie on an ellipsoid, called
.The ellipsoid axes values are the half of the principal moments of inertia. The path traced out on this ellipsoid by theangular velocity vector is called the
(coined by Poinsot from Greek roots for "pole path") and isgenerally circular or taco-shaped.
Angular momentum constraint
In the absence of applied torques, the angular momentum vector is conserved in an inertial reference frame.The angular momentum vector can be expressed in terms of the moment of inertia tensor and the angularvelocity vectorwhich leads to the equationSince the dot product of and is constant, and itself is constant, the angular velocity vector has a constantcomponent in the direction of the angular momentum vector . This imposes a second constraint on the vector ;in absolute space, it must lie on an
defined by its dot product with the conserved vector . Thenormal vector to the invariable plane is aligned with . The path traced out by the angular velocity vector on theinvariable plane is called the
(coined from Greek roots for "serpentine pole path").