Why does a can of cranberry sauce roll so far?
A can of cranberry sauce rolls so far because it is thick and heavy. There
are two physical quantities of concern here: momentum and angular momentum.
When you push the can, you give it momentum. By making the can roll, you
also give it angular momentum. The thickness of the sauce makes the
cranberry sauce rotate with the can itself.
Both quantities are proportional to mass and speed. The can stops after
both momentum and angular momentum have been removed. Because a rolling
object does not slide along the table, friction cannot take away the
momentum or angular momentum. Only air molecules can do this. The more
mass and velocity an object has, the more time is required for the momentum
to be drained. [A more extreme example is a bowling ball vs. a balloon. If
both are moving at the same speed, it is much more difficult to stop the
bowling ball because of its much greater mass.]
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Update: June 2012