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Poinsot's ellipsoid

Poinsot's ellipsoid

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Published by Paul Muljadi
Poinsot's ellipsoid
Poinsot's ellipsoid

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Published by: Paul Muljadi on Jan 03, 2013
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04/02/2015

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Poinsot's ellipsoid1
Poinsot's ellipsoid
In classical mechanics,
Poinsot's construction
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
not constant 
, 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
inertia ellipsoid
.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
polhode
(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
invariable plane
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
herpolhode
(coined from Greek roots for "serpentine pole path").
 
Poinsot's ellipsoid2
Tangency condition and construction
These two constraints operate in different reference frames; the ellipsoidal constraint holds in the (rotating) principalaxis frame, whereas the invariable plane constant operates in absolute space. To relate these constraints, we note thatthe gradient vector of the kinetic energy with respect to angular velocity vector equals the angular momentumvectorHence, the normal vector to the kinetic-energy ellipsoid at is proportional to , which is also true of theinvariable plane. Since their normal vectors point in the same direction, these two surfaces will intersect tangentially.Taken together, these results show that, in an absolute reference frame, the instantaneous angular velocity vectoris the point of intersection between a fixed invariable plane and a kinetic-energy ellipsoid that is tangent to it androlls around on it without slipping. This is
Poinsot's construction
.
Derivation of the polhodes in the body frame
In the principal axis frame (which is rotating in absolute space), the angular momentum vector is
not 
conserved evenin the absence of applied torques, but varies as described by Euler's equations. However, in the absence of appliedtorques, the magnitude of the angular momentum and the kinetic energy are both conservedwhere the are the components of the angular momentum vector along the principal axes, and the are theprincipal moments of inertia.These conservation laws are equivalent to two constraints to the three-dimensional angular momentum vector .The kinetic energy constrains to lie on an ellipsoid, whereas the angular momentum constraint constrains to lieon a sphere. These two surfaces intersect in taco-shaped curves that define the possible solutions for .This construction differs from Poinsot's construction because it considers the angular momentum vector ratherthan the angular velocity vector . It appears to have been developed by Jacques Philippe Marie Binet.
References
Poinsot (1834)
Theorie Nouvelle de la Rotation des Corps
'.Landau LD and Lifshitz EM (1976)
 Mechanics
, 3rd. ed., Pergamon Press. ISBN 0-08-021022-8 (hardcover) andISBN 0-08-029141-4 (softcover).Goldstein H. (1980)
Classical Mechanics
, 2nd. ed., Addison-Wesley. ISBN 0-201-02918-9Symon KR. (1971)
 Mechanics
, 3rd. ed., Addison-Wesley. ISBN 0-201-07392-7

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