How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 988

How does a roller coaster work?
A roller coaster is essentially a gravity-powered train. When the chain pulls the train up the first hill, it transfers an enormous amount of energy to that train. This energy initially takes the form of gravitational potential energy—energy stored in the gravitational force between the train and the earth. But once the train begins to descend the first hill, that gravitational potential energy becomes kinetic energy—the energy of motion. The roller coaster reaches maximum speed at the bottom of the first hill, when all of its gravitational potential energy has been converted to kinetic energy. It then rushes up the second hill, slowing down and converting some of its kinetic energy back into gravitational potential energy. This conversion of energy back and forth between the two forms continues, but energy is gradually lost to friction and air resistance so that the ride becomes less and less intense until finally it comes to a stop.

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