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Elastic Collision vs. Inelastic Collision: What's the Difference?

Edited by Huma Saeed || By Sumera Saeed || Updated on October 16, 2023
In an elastic collision, both momentum and kinetic energy are conserved; in an inelastic collision, only momentum is conserved.

Key Differences

In physics, when two objects collide, the nature of their interaction can be categorized as either an elastic collision or an inelastic collision. An elastic collision is one where both momentum and kinetic energy of the colliding system are conserved. On the other hand, an inelastic collision is characterized by the conservation of momentum, but not the kinetic energy.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023
During an elastic collision, the colliding objects bounce off each other without any loss of kinetic energy. However, in an inelastic collision, some kinetic energy is transformed into other forms of energy, often heat or potential energy, resulting in the objects not rebounding with the same kinetic energy they had prior to the collision.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023
Billiard balls hitting each other provide a good example of an almost elastic collision, where they bounce off with minimal energy loss. Conversely, a car crash exemplifies an inelastic collision, where the vehicles might stick together, and kinetic energy is lost as heat, sound, and deformation.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023
It's important to note that while total energy is always conserved (as per the law of conservation of energy), in an inelastic collision, not all this energy remains as kinetic energy. In contrast, elastic collisions maintain their kinetic energy post-collision, making them idealized situations often used in theoretical physics.
Janet White
Oct 16, 2023
While perfectly elastic collisions are rare in the real world due to factors like air resistance and friction, they provide valuable theoretical models. In contrast, inelastic collisions are more commonly observed in day-to-day experiences, illustrating the reality of energy dissipation.
Janet White
Oct 16, 2023
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Comparison Chart

Kinetic Energy Conservation

Conserved
Not conserved
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

Momentum Conservation

Conserved
Conserved
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

Post-collision Behavior

Objects bounce off each other
Objects may stick together or deform
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

Energy Transformation

None or minimal
Kinetic energy can turn into heat, sound, or deformation
Janet White
Oct 16, 2023

Real-world Occurrence

Rare (ideal situations)
Common (e.g., car crashes)
Sara Rehman
Oct 16, 2023
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Elastic Collision and Inelastic Collision Definitions

Elastic Collision

Interaction where objects' velocities change while maintaining energy.
Even if directions change in an elastic collision, energy remains constant.
Harlon Moss
Oct 16, 2023

Inelastic Collision

Energy might transform into other forms.
In inelastic collisions, some kinetic energy can become heat.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

Elastic Collision

Ideal interaction with no kinetic energy dissipation.
In an elastic collision, no energy is wasted as heat.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

Inelastic Collision

Common real-world collision model.
Most daily observed collisions, like fruit dropping, are inelastic.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

Elastic Collision

Collision conserving momentum and kinetic energy.
Billiard balls exhibit nearly elastic collisions.
Huma Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

Inelastic Collision

Collision where only momentum is conserved.
A car crash often results in an inelastic collision.
Huma Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

Elastic Collision

Objects rebound without energy loss.
Two rubber balls colliding demonstrate an elastic collision.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

Inelastic Collision

Objects may stick together or deform.
Two cars colliding and crumpling demonstrate an inelastic collision.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

Elastic Collision

Theoretical collision model in physics.
Elastic collisions are often used in physics problems for simplicity.
Harlon Moss
Oct 16, 2023

Inelastic Collision

Kinetic energy is not fully conserved post-collision.
Dough bouncing is less energetic after an inelastic collision.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

FAQs

What's conserved in an elastic collision?

Both momentum and kinetic energy are conserved in an elastic collision.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

Are perfectly elastic collisions common in real life?

Perfectly elastic collisions are rare in real life due to factors like friction.
Sara Rehman
Oct 16, 2023

Why are perfectly inelastic collisions called 'perfectly' if energy is lost?

The term "perfectly" refers to objects sticking together, not energy conservation.
Janet White
Oct 16, 2023

Do objects stick together in an inelastic collision?

In some inelastic collisions, objects may stick together post-collision.
Huma Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

Can kinetic energy increase in an inelastic collision?

No, in an inelastic collision, kinetic energy can decrease but not increase.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

What happens to the lost kinetic energy in an inelastic collision?

It can transform into other energy forms like heat or potential energy.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

Can an elastic collision result in energy loss?

Theoretically, no; elastic collisions conserve both momentum and kinetic energy.
Janet White
Oct 16, 2023

Are momentum and energy always conserved in collisions?

Total momentum is always conserved, but kinetic energy is only conserved in elastic collisions.
Aimie Carlson
Oct 16, 2023

How do velocities change in an elastic collision?

Velocities change such that both momentum and kinetic energy are conserved.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

Are there collisions that are neither perfectly elastic nor inelastic?

Yes, many real-world collisions fall somewhere in between the two extremes.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

Why is a car crash typically inelastic?

Cars often deform or crumple, losing kinetic energy to deformation and heat.
Aimie Carlson
Oct 16, 2023

Do inelastic collisions always produce heat?

Not always, but often some of the kinetic energy is transformed into heat.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

What's a primary distinction between elastic and inelastic collisions?

The conservation of kinetic energy.
Sara Rehman
Oct 16, 2023

Can you have an inelastic collision without any deformation?

Yes, kinetic energy can be lost in other ways, like to sound or internal vibrations.
Aimie Carlson
Oct 16, 2023

Is the total energy of a system conserved in inelastic collisions?

Yes, total energy is conserved, but not all remains as kinetic energy.
Sara Rehman
Oct 16, 2023

In an elastic collision, do objects always separate?

In an ideal elastic collision, objects bounce off each other post-collision.
Sara Rehman
Oct 16, 2023

Can two objects moving in the same direction have an elastic collision?

Yes, as long as momentum and kinetic energy are conserved.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2023

What’s a common example of an almost elastic collision?

Billiard balls colliding.
Janet White
Oct 16, 2023

Can objects change direction in an elastic collision?

Yes, objects can change direction but still conserve total kinetic energy.
Janet White
Oct 16, 2023

Are all inelastic collisions involving sticking objects?

No, objects can bounce off in inelastic collisions but with kinetic energy loss.
Janet White
Oct 16, 2023
About Author
Written by
Sumera Saeed
Sumera is an experienced content writer and editor with a niche in comparative analysis. At Diffeence Wiki, she crafts clear and unbiased comparisons to guide readers in making informed decisions. With a dedication to thorough research and quality, Sumera's work stands out in the digital realm. Off the clock, she enjoys reading and exploring diverse cultures.
Edited by
Huma Saeed
Huma is a renowned researcher acclaimed for her innovative work in Difference Wiki. Her dedication has led to key breakthroughs, establishing her prominence in academia. Her contributions continually inspire and guide her field.

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