Distance and displacement are two widely used terms that can be commonly used by people in motion. However, physically speaking, these two terms present several differences. Distance is the length of a path between two points and displacement is the shortest distance between two points.
The purpose of this article is to define the terms and show the differences that exist between them so that we can use them correctly.
You can say that distance is a word that derives from Latin -distanceia- and means -being far away-. Therefore, distance is a magnitude that measures the proximity relationship between two things, objects, bodies, etc. It can also be considered as the length that is traveled by an object from one point to another. It is a scalar magnitude, so it is expressed by a number and a unit of magnitude, usually in meters (according to the international system of units), kilometers, centimeters, etc.
- If a person leaves their home, goes shopping at the market, then goes to the cinema, then goes to the pharmacy and finally returns home, the distance traveled by this person will be the sum of all these lengths that exist from one point to another, so if all these sites were 300 meters away from each other, the person will have traveled 1200 meters that day.
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Displacement is considered a vector magnitude and we can describe it as the variation of the position of a body. The displacement focuses on the length of the path of an object that exists considering an initial point and another endpoint. It can be said that the result is a straight line between these two points. Therefore, it should be noted that the displacement does not depend on the path followed by the body in question but as mentioned above the difference between the points considered as initial and final.
- If the same person in example # 1, take the tour described above where he leaves his house, travels through a series of places during the day and finally returns home, considering an initial point like his house and an endpoint his house again, the total displacement of the day will have been 0 meters, because the starting and ending point is the same. However, if the displacement of the person from his house to the market is considered, the displacement of the person for that place would be 300 meters.
For all the above, we can summarize the differences between distance and displacement as:
|It is a magnitude that measures the length that is traveled by an object from one point to another.||It is a magnitude that measures the variation of the position of a body between two points, considering a starting point and an endpoint.|
|It is considered a scalar magnitude.||It is considered a vector magnitude.|
|It depends on the path that the object follows.||It does not depend on the path that the object follows.|
|It is expressed by a number and a unit of magnitude frequently in meters.||In physics, it is expressed by a module (value), unity, direction, and meaning.|
|It is obtained from the sum of all the lengths traveled by an object.||It is obtained from the difference in the length value of an endpoint and an initial point of an object.|
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