Graphs provide a convenient method to present basic information about a variety of events. For example, in the telecast of a one-day cricket match, vertical bar graphs show the run rate of a team in each over. As you have studied in mathematics, a straight line graph helps in solving a linear equation having two variables. To describe the motion of an object, we can use line graphs. In this case, line graphs show dependence of one physical quantity, such as distance or velocity, on another quantity, such as time.
The change in the position of an object with time can be represented on the distance-time graph adopting a convenient scale of choice. In this graph, time is taken along the x–axis and distance is taken along the y-axis. Distance-time graphs can be employed under various conditions where objects move with uniform speed, non-uniform speed, remain at rest etc.
We know that when an object travels equal distances in equal intervals of time, it moves with uniform speed. This shows that the distance travelled by the object is directly proportional to time taken. Thus, for uniform speed, a graph of distance travelled against time is a straight line, as shown in Fig. 3. The portion OB of the graph shows that the distance is increasing at a uniform rate. Note that, you can also use the term uniform velocity in place of uniform speed if you take the magnitude of displacement equal to the distance travelled by the object along the y-axis.
We can use the distance-time graph to determine the speed of an object. To do so, consider a small part AB of the distance-time graph shown in Fig 3. Draw a line parallel to the x-axis from point A and another line parallel to the y-axis from point B. These two lines meet each other at point C to form a triangle ABC. Now, on the graph, AC denotes the time interval (t2 – t1) while BC corresponds to the distance (s2 – s1). We can see from the graph that as the object moves from the point A to B, it covers a distance (s2 – s1) in time (t2 – t1). The speed, v of the object, therefore can be represented as
We can also plot the distance-time graph for accelerated motion. Table shows the distance travelled by a car in a time interval of two seconds.
The distance-time graph for the motion of the car is shown in Fig. 4. Note that the shape of this graph is different from the earlier distance-time graph (Fig. 3) for uniform motion. The nature of this graph shows nonlinear variation of the distance travelled by the car with time. Thus, the graph shown in Fig 4 represents motion with non-uniform speed.