# Conservation of momentum problem (sand-spraying locomotive)

• AspiringPhysicist12
In summary: I understand it). In summary, the momentum of the sand is transferred to the freight car and causes it to accelerate.
AspiringPhysicist12
Homework Statement
A sand-spraying locomotive sprays sand horizontally into a freight car as shown in the sketch. The locomotive and freight car are not attached. The engineer in the locomotive maintains his speed so that the distance to the freight car is constant. The sand is transferred at a rate dm/dt = 10 kg/s with a velocity 5 m/s relative to the locomotive. The freight car starts from rest with an initial mass of 2000 kg. Find its speed after 100 s.
Relevant Equations
F_external = 0
If I consider only the freight car's mass and the mass dm that's added to the freight car as part of the system, then I get this answer:

https://ibb.co/QfKSqQ5

But if I consider the freight car's mass, the mass dm, and the locomotive car as part of the system (maintaining the locomotive has velocity u relative to the freight car), then I get this answer:

https://ibb.co/RNZCbgY

I want to understand why I'm getting 2 different answers in this problem.

Last edited by a moderator:
The speed of the locomotive is maintained by an unspecified external force, so you cannot include the locomotive's momentum in the conservation equation.

Delta2 and Orodruin
AspiringPhysicist12 said:
Homework Statement:: A sand-spraying locomotive sprays sand horizontally into a freight car as shown in the sketch. The locomotive and freight car are not attached. The engineer in the locomotive maintains his speed so that the distance to the freight car is constant. The sand is transferred at a rate dm/dt = 10 kg/s with a velocity 5 m/s relative to the locomotive. The freight car starts from rest with an initial mass of 2000 kg. Find its speed after 100 s.
Relevant Equations:: F_external = 0

If I consider only the freight car's mass and the mass dm that's added to the freight car as part of the system, then I get this answer:

https://ibb.co/QfKSqQ5
View attachment 302742
Note that you have an integration error here. You can see the answer is not dimensionally correct.

Thank you, but considering the ground isn't part of the system, isn't there also an external force (i.e. friction) required for the freight car to accelerate? I thought we were neglecting that for simplicity, but if that's not the reason, why would momentum be conserved in the accelerating freight car + dm system?

AspiringPhysicist12 said:
Thank you, but considering the ground isn't part of the system, isn't there also an external force (i.e. friction) required for the freight car to accelerate? I thought we were neglecting that for simplicity, but if that's not the reason, why would momentum be conserved in the accelerating freight car + dm system?
I think there would have to be friction on the track for the locomotive to accelerate to keep up with the freight car. But the freight car doesn't need friction to accelerate.

That being said, unless they were on different tracks, there would be friction on the track of the freight car... and some non-conservative forces. Maybe this is a bit of a "hand wavy" idealization?

Last edited:
AspiringPhysicist12
Yeah I'm really confused since they're on the same track. If an external force is required to keep the locomotive moving at speed u relative to the freight train, and if this is why we can't consider it as part of a conserved momentum system, why can we ignore the external force required to accelerate the freight train? They're not attached in the problem either, so it's not like only one of them needs to experience an external force for both to accelerate.

AspiringPhysicist12 said:
why can we ignore the external force required to accelerate the freight train?
There is no external force required for the freight car to accelerate. It will accelerate on a frictionless track, so long as it is getting an impulse from the sand gun attached to the locomotive. It is just the locomotive that would require friction on the track to keep up with the freight car.

Delta2 and AspiringPhysicist12
AspiringPhysicist12 said:
If an external force is required to keep the locomotive moving at speed u relative to the freight train
The speed of the locomotive relative to the freight car is 0 in this problem. Just a clarification.

Delta2 and AspiringPhysicist12
AspiringPhysicist12 said:
Yeah I'm really confused since they're on the same track.
Yeah, it seems a bit "hand wavy", but otherwise the problem becomes much more complex.

AspiringPhysicist12
That helps a lot, thank you!

My last question, the acceleration of the freight car comes from the momentum transferred to it by the sprayed sand, right? That's the force causing the freight car to accelerate?

Delta2 and erobz
AspiringPhysicist12 said:
That helps a lot, thank you!

My last question, the acceleration of the freight car comes from the momentum transferred to it by the sprayed sand, right? That's the force causing the freight car to accelerate?
Whether it is an external force depends on your choice of system.
in post #1, your system appears to be the freight car+current load+next instalment of load arriving in time Δt. In that view, the acceleration of the car results from the internal forces that bring those components to the same speed.

If your system is freight car+current load then it is the external force applied by the next instalment of load arriving in time Δt.

AspiringPhysicist12, erobz and Delta2
AspiringPhysicist12 said:
That helps a lot, thank you!

My last question, the acceleration of the freight car comes from the momentum transferred to it by the sprayed sand, right? That's the force causing the freight car to accelerate?

Yeah, it's a reaction force from the change in momentum of the sand per unit time ( at least that's how I'm looking at it in this problem ). But as @haruspex pointed out, there may be some subtlety to the interpretation. I don't believe that how you look at it affects the acceleration though, but it may be important for how you write the equations.

Last edited:
AspiringPhysicist12
Another variable mass system that leads to weird complications...

AspiringPhysicist12 and erobz
AspiringPhysicist12 said:
Yeah I'm really confused since they're on the same track. If an external force is required to keep the locomotive moving at speed u relative to the freight train, and if this is why we can't consider it as part of a conserved momentum system, why can we ignore the external force required to accelerate the freight train? They're not attached in the problem either, so it's not like only one of them needs to experience an external force for both to accelerate.
The whole point of the problem is that the freight car is being accelerated by the impulse of the sand being pumped into it. It needs no external force to accelerate.

Without an external force the locomotive would recoil and accelerate in the opposite direction. The implication of the problem is that the locomotive uses its engine to prevent this recoil and, moreover, to keep pace with the accelerating freight car.

I don't see why that seems complicated.

Delta2

## What is the conservation of momentum problem in a sand-spraying locomotive?

The conservation of momentum problem in a sand-spraying locomotive refers to the principle of conservation of momentum, which states that the total momentum of a closed system remains constant. In this case, the sand-spraying locomotive is considered a closed system, and the problem arises when the momentum of the sand being sprayed out of the locomotive affects the overall momentum of the system.

## Why is the conservation of momentum important in a sand-spraying locomotive?

The conservation of momentum is important in a sand-spraying locomotive because it helps to ensure that the locomotive maintains a stable and predictable movement. If the momentum of the sand being sprayed out of the locomotive is not taken into account, it could cause unexpected changes in the locomotive's speed and direction, potentially leading to accidents or malfunctions.

## What factors can affect the conservation of momentum in a sand-spraying locomotive?

There are several factors that can affect the conservation of momentum in a sand-spraying locomotive. These include the mass and velocity of the sand being sprayed, the mass and velocity of the locomotive, and any external forces acting on the system, such as friction or air resistance.

## How can the conservation of momentum problem in a sand-spraying locomotive be solved?

The conservation of momentum problem in a sand-spraying locomotive can be solved by using the principle of conservation of momentum, which states that the total momentum before and after a collision or interaction remains constant. This can be applied to the sand-spraying locomotive by considering the momentum of the sand before and after it is sprayed out of the locomotive, as well as the momentum of the locomotive itself.

## What are some real-world applications of the conservation of momentum problem in a sand-spraying locomotive?

The conservation of momentum problem in a sand-spraying locomotive has real-world applications in various industries, including transportation and construction. For example, it is important to consider the momentum of materials being sprayed out of a construction vehicle, such as concrete or asphalt, to ensure the stability and safety of the vehicle. In transportation, the conservation of momentum is crucial in designing and operating vehicles, such as trains and airplanes, to ensure their safe and efficient movement.

• Introductory Physics Homework Help
Replies
2
Views
1K
• Introductory Physics Homework Help
Replies
2
Views
4K
• Introductory Physics Homework Help
Replies
30
Views
5K
• Introductory Physics Homework Help
Replies
4
Views
912
• Introductory Physics Homework Help
Replies
6
Views
1K
• Introductory Physics Homework Help
Replies
3
Views
1K
• Introductory Physics Homework Help
Replies
18
Views
318
• Introductory Physics Homework Help
Replies
17
Views
2K
• Introductory Physics Homework Help
Replies
2
Views
740
• Introductory Physics Homework Help
Replies
23
Views
994