How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 727

Without gravity in space, what would happen to the recoil if a gun were shot off? — DZ, Illinois
Even in the depths of space, so far from any planet that gravity is virtually absent, a gun will have its normal recoil. When you push on something, it pushes back on you just as hard as you push on it. That rule, known as Newton's third law of motion, is as true in empty space as it is on earth. Thus when the gun pushes the bullet forward, the bullet pushes the gun backward equally hard and you feel the gun itself jump backward as result. This recoil effect is the very basis for rocket propulsion—the rocket pushes its exhaust backward and the exhaust pushes the rocket forward. That's why rockets can work outside the earth's atmosphere and away from any celestial objects—the rocket only has to push on its exhaust in order to obtain a push forward.

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