(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({}); 1. The problem statement, all variables and given/known data

I feel silly posting such a simple problem, but a substantial amount of thinking, Googling, and scouring these forums has not yielded an answer.

An experiment involving the "explosion" of two carts is conducted where an internal plunger in one of the carts is triggered, forcing the two carts apart. Motion sensors on the ends of the track record the acceleration of the carts as they move away from each other.

Three successive trials are conducted. In the first trial, the plunger is triggered in the cart forcing the two 250-g carts away from each other.

This is repeated twice more, first with an additional 500-g mass on one of the carts, then again with an additional 1000 g on one of the carts.

In the first trial (no added mass), the acceleration of the red cart was 6.00 m/s2.

...

In the third trial (1000 g of mass added to the red cart), the acceleration of the red cart is decreased by a factor of 5 compared to the first trial. What is a reasonable prediction for the acceleration of the blue cart in the third trial?

2. Relevant equations

Newton's Second Law: F*_net = ma* (where the asterisk denotes a vector quantity)

Newton's Third Law: F*_(A on B) = F*_(B on A)

3. The attempt at a solution

I reasoned that the acceleration of the blue cart remains constant regardless of the mass of the red cart. Given the statement that the red car's acceleration is reduced by a factor of five when its mass is increased by a factor of five (from 250 g to 1.25 kg), according to (F*_net = ma*), I would expect that F*_net on the red cart remains constant. Since the magnitudes of F*_net_red and F*_net_blue must be equal by Newton's Third Law, I reasoned that the force exerted on the blue cart must be the same regardless of the mass of the red cart, given that the net force exerted on the red cart seems to remain constant regardless of its mass. As the mass of the blue cart remains constant, if the net force exerted on it remains so as well, then its acceleration must remain constant, too. To explain the correct answer in which the blue cart moves with greater acceleration when the mass of the red cart is increased, one must assume that the red cart exerts a greater force on the blue cart when the mass of the red cart is increased, which makes no sense to me whatsoever.

Thinking in less abstract and more intuitive terms, I'm still confounded. On the one hand, increasing the mass of the red cart should not increase the force with which its plunger extends, and thus the blue cart should have the same force exerted on it regardless of the mass of the red cart. On the other hand, if I imagine increasing the mass of the red cart to several thousand times its current value, it seems the reaction force of the blue cart pushing against the red cart would not move the red cart at all; if the red cart didn't move, less motion would be "wasted" moving the red cart (if that makes any sense at all) and the blue cart would move away faster than it did when the red cart had a lesser mass.

The correct answer is that the blue cart's acceleration increased by a factor of five when the mass of the red cart was increased by a factor of five. I still don't understand why the blue cart wouldn't move away at the same acceleration regardless of the mass of the red cart. Any assistance you provide will be much appreciated.

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# Explosive motion of two carts away from one another, driven by plunger in one of them

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