General Question

Wheelturns69's avatar

Please explain how a gyroscope wheel works?

Asked by Wheelturns69 (8points) October 4th, 2010

I’ve read all the explanations that they have as far as angular momentum and precession as well as nutation. But I still cant seem to understand HOW it truly works. For example why is it that when you spin the wheel of a gyroscope, that’s hanging a string, away from you, the spin direction of the wheel is either clockwise or counter clockwise. That’s where I get lost

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6 Answers

YoBob's avatar

Think Newtons laws of motion.

Take a rock tied to the end of a string and swing it around your head. You can feel the weight of the rock pulling outward. Now consider a wheel. You essentially have an infinite number of “rocks” evenly distributed at equal distances from the center. When you spin it they all try to pull outward at the same time. Since it takes some force to overcome the inertia of the moving outer edge of the wheel a balance point is created in the center. if you try to move that balance point the inertia will easily overcome that relatively small motion and correct itself.

gasman's avatar

I took a “mechanics” physics course in college, where an object’s moment of inertia (analogous to mass exerting resistance to linear acceleration) is treated as a tensor matrix rather than a scalar like mass. Thus when interacting with gravity all 3 space axes are involved by way of cross-products. Frankly I don’t remember the details but I know where to look it up.

While a fixed object is simply pulled downward at its center of gravity, a spinning gyroscope—interacting with the force of gravity—can generate sideways and upward components of force. These seemingly bizarre forces account for precession & nutation & other counter-intuitive behavior, all given by long-worked-out formulas in Newtonian physics.

Not sure what your question is about clockwise / counterclockwise. The right-hand rule applies in vector cross-products.

Wheelturns69's avatar

This might explain more of what I’m talking about as far as the gyroscope wheel turning either clockwise or counter clockwise. This experiment was done and was quite fun, but still didn’t understand why the wheel turned the way it did..

by the way, both answers so far made things a little bit clearer on why the gyroscopic wheel does what it does.

YoBob's avatar

Regarding the whole clockwise/counterclockwise thing, it doesn’t matter which direction the wheel is spinning in, the self correcting nature of the inertia will work equally well. However, you can determine the direction that the wheel is spinning by observing the way the gyroscope wobbles when it makes a correction.

Cirbryn's avatar

> “For example why is it that when you spin the wheel of a gyroscope, that’s hanging a string, away from you, the spin direction of the wheel is either clockwise or counter clockwise.”

I don’t get that. You’re asking why it’s either clockwise or counterclockwise? What other choices are there?

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