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Rotation

Euler's Equations

The fundamental equation of motion of a rotating body [see Equation (456)],

(501)

is only valid in an inertial frame. However, we have seen that is most simply

expressed in a frame of reference whose axes are aligned along the principal axes

of rotation of the body. Such a frame of reference rotates with the body, and is,

therefore, non-inertial. Thus, it is helpful to define two Cartesian coordinate

systems, with the same origins. The first, with coordinates , , , is a fixed

inertial frame--let us denote this the fixed frame. The second, with coordinates

, , , co-rotates with the body in such a manner that the -, -, and -axes

are always pointing along its principal axes of rotation--we shall refer to this as

the body frame. Since the body frame co-rotates with the body, its instantaneous

angular velocity is the same as that of the body. Hence, it follows from the analysis

in Section 7.2 that

(502)

Here, is the time derivative in the fixed frame, and the time

derivative in the body frame. Combining Equations (501) and (502), we obtain

(503)

are the principal moments of inertia. Hence, in the body frame, the components of

Equation (503) yield

(504)

(505)

(506)

where . Here, we have made use of the fact that the moments of inertia

of a rigid body are constant in time in the co-rotating body frame. The above

equations are known as Euler's equations.

Euler's equations, (504)-(506), reduce to

(507)

(508)

(509)

These equations specify the components of the steady (in the body frame) torque

exerted on the body by the constraining supports. The steady (in the body frame)

angular momentum is written

(510)

both the angular velocity and the angular momentum vectors. Note that if the axis

of rotation is a principal axis then two of the three components of are zero (in

the body frame). It follows from Equations (507)-(509) that all three components

of the torque are zero. In other words, zero external torque is required to make the

body rotate steadily about a principal axis.

Suppose that the body is freely rotating: i.e., there are no external torques.

Furthermore, let the body be rotationally symmetric about the -axis. It follows

that . Likewise, we can write . In general,

(511)

(512)

(513)

Clearly, is a constant of the motion. Equation (511) and (512) can be written

(514)

(515)

equations is

(516)

(517)

where is a constant. Thus, the projection of the angular velocity vector onto

the - plane has the fixed length , and rotates steadily about the -axis

with angular velocity . It follows that the length of the angular velocity

angular velocity vector makes some constant angle, , with the -axis, which

implies that and . Hence, the components of the

angular velocity vector are

(518)

(519)

(520)

where

(521)

We conclude that, in the body frame, the angular velocity vector precesses about

the symmetry axis (i.e., the -axis) with the angular frequency . Now, the

components of the angular momentum vector are

(522)

(523)

(524)

Thus, in the body frame, the angular momentum vector is also of constant length,

and precesses about the symmetry axis with the angular frequency .

Furthermore, the angular momentum vector makes a constant angle with the

symmetry axis, where

(525)

Note that the angular momentum vector, the angular velocity vector, and the

symmetry axis all lie in the same plane: i.e., , as can easily be

verified. Moreover, the angular momentum vector lies between the angular

velocity vector and the symmetry axis (i.e., ) for a flattened (or oblate) body

(i.e., ), whereas the angular velocity vector lies between the angular

momentum vector and the symmetry axis (i.e., ) for an elongated (or

Let us now consider the most general motion of a freely rotating asymmetric rigid

body, as seen in the body frame. Since a freely rotating body experiences no

external torques, its angular momentum vector is a constant of the motion in the

inertial fixed frame. In general, the direction of this vector varies with time in the

non-inertial body frame, but its length remains fixed. This can be seen from

(526)

The above constraint can also be derived directly from Euler's equations, (504)-

external torques clearly has a constant rotational kinetic energy. Hence, from

Equation (469),

(527)

This constraint can also be derived directly from Euler's equations. We conclude

that, in the body frame, the components of must simultaneously satisfy the two

constraints (526) and (527). These constraints are the equations of two ellipsoids

whose principal axes coincide with the principal axes of the body, and whose

respectively. In general, the intersection of these two ellipsoids is a closed curve.

Hence, we conclude that the most general motion of a freely rotating asymmetric

body, as seen in the body frame, is a form of irregular precession in which the tip

of the angular velocity vector periodically traces out the aforementioned closed

curve. It is easily demonstrated that the tip of the angular momentum vector

periodically traces out a different closed curve

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