Moment of inertia

The moment of inertia, otherwise known as the mass moment of inertia, angular mass, second moment of mass, or most accurately, rotational inertia, of a rigid body is a quantity that determines the torque needed for a desired angular acceleration about a rotational axis, akin to how mass determines the force needed for a desired acceleration. It depends on the body's mass distribution and the axis chosen, with larger moments requiring more torque to change the body's rate of rotation.

Moment of inertia
Flywheels have large moments of inertia to smooth out rotational motion.
Common symbols
I
SI unitkg m2
Other units
lbf·ft·s2
Derivations from
other quantities
DimensionM L2
Tightrope walkers use the moment of inertia of a long rod for balance as they walk the rope. Samuel Dixon crossing the Niagara River in 1890.
War planes have lesser moment of inertia for maneuverability.

It is an extensive (additive) property: for a point mass the moment of inertia is simply the mass times the square of the perpendicular distance to the axis of rotation. The moment of inertia of a rigid composite system is the sum of the moments of inertia of its component subsystems (all taken about the same axis). Its simplest definition is the second moment of mass with respect to distance from an axis.

For bodies constrained to rotate in a plane, only their moment of inertia about an axis perpendicular to the plane, a scalar value, matters. For bodies free to rotate in three dimensions, their moments can be described by a symmetric 3×3 matrix, with a set of mutually perpendicular principal axes for which this matrix is diagonal and torques around the axes act independently of each other.


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