# Understanding Projectile Motion: Beyond the Parabolic Model

Physics heresy: Projectiles don't actually make parabolas 🔗

Projectile motion is traditionally taught as following a parabolic path when an object is thrown or released under the influence of Earth's gravity. However, this is a simplification. In reality, even without considering air resistance, projectiles trace a small section of an elliptical orbit. This deviation from a perfect parabola occurs because the Earth's gravitational field, which points toward its center, does not act uniformly as if the Earth were flat. As projectiles move, their trajectories are affected by the Earth's curvature and varying gravitational forces. While the parabolic model is adequate for many practical situations, especially over short distances, more precise measurements reveal the elliptical nature of projectile paths, which must be taken into account for high accuracy applications or longer flight times.

### What shape do projectiles actually trace out in Earth's gravitational field?

Projectiles trace out a small section of an ellipse rather than a perfect parabola, even when neglecting air resistance.

### Why is the parabolic model of projectile motion taught in schools?

The parabolic model is a good approximation for many practical applications, especially when the flight duration is short and precision is not critical.

### What factors can influence the accuracy of projectile motion predictions?

Factors such as air resistance, the Earth's curvature, varying gravitational forces, and the density of the Earth's interior can all affect the accuracy of projectile motion predictions.