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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)

Now, in the body frame let and . It

follows that , where , and


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.

Consider a rigid body which is constrained to rotate about a fixed axis

with constant angular velocity. It follows that . Hence,


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)

It is easily demonstrated that . Hence, the torque is perpendicular to


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,

however, . Thus, Euler's equations yield

(511)

(512)

(513)

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

(514)

(515)

where . As is easily demonstrated, the solution to the above


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

vector, , is a constant of the motion. Clearly, the


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

prolate) body (i.e., ).

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

Equation (502): if then the scalar product of this equation with

implies that . It follows from Equation (510) that

(526)

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

(506), by setting . A freely rotating body subject to no


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

principal radii are in the ratio and ,


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