Centrifugal force (from Latin centrum, meaning "center", and fugere, meaning "to flee") is the apparent outward force that draws a rotating body away from the center of rotation. It is caused by the inertia of the body as the body's path is continually redirected. In Newtonian mechanics, the term centrifugal force is used to refer to one of two distinct concepts: an inertial force (also called a "fictitious" force) observed in a non-inertial reference frame, and a reaction force corresponding to a centripetal force.

The term is also sometimes used in Lagrangian mechanics to describe certain terms in the generalized force that depend on the choice of generalized coordinates.

The concept of centrifugal force is applied in rotating devices such as centrifuges, centrifugal pumps, centrifugal governors, centrifugal clutches, etc., as well as in centrifugal railways, planetary orbits, banked curves, etc. These devices and situations can be analyzed either in terms of the fictitious force in the rotating coordinate system of the motion relative to a center, or in terms of the centripetal and reactive centrifugal forces seen from a non-rotating frame of reference; these different forces are equal in magnitude, but centrifugal and reactive centrifugal forces are opposite in direction to the centripetal force.

History of conceptions of centrifugal and centripetal forces

The conception of centrifugal force has evolved since the time of Huygens, Newton, Leibniz, and Hooke who expressed early conceptions of it. Its modern conception as a fictitious force arising in a rotating reference frame evolved in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

Centrifugal force has also played a role in debates in classical mechanics about detection of absolute motion. Newton suggested two arguments to answer the question of whether absolute rotation can be detected: the rotating bucket argument, and the rotating spheres argument. According to Newton, in each scenario the centrifugal force would be observed in the object's local frame (the frame where the object is stationary) only if the frame were rotating with respect to absolute space. Nearly two centuries later, Mach's principle was proposed where, instead of absolute rotation, the motion of the distant stars relative to the local inertial frame gives rise through some (hypothetical) physical law to the centrifugal force and other inertia effects. Today's view is based upon the idea of an inertial frame of reference, which privileges observers for which the laws of physics take on their simplest form, and in particular, frames that do not use centrifugal forces in their equations of motion in order to describe motions correctly.

The analogy between centrifugal force (sometimes used to create artificial gravity) and gravitational forces led to the equivalence principle of general relativity.

Fictitious centrifugal force

Centrifugal force is often confused with centripetal force. Centrifugal force is most commonly introduced as an outward force apparent in a rotating frame of reference. It is apparent (fictitious) in the sense that it is not part of an interaction but is a result of rotation - with no reaction-force counterpart. This type of force is associated with describing motion in a non-inertial reference frame, and referred to as a fictitious or inertial force (a description that must be understood as a technical usage of these words that means only that the force is not present in a stationary or inertial frame)

There are three contexts in which the concept of fictitious centrifugal force arises when describing motion using classical mechanics:

In the first context, the motion is described relative to a rotating reference frame about a fixed axis at the origin of the coordinate system. For observations made in the rotating frame, all objects appear to be under the influence of a radially outward force that is proportional to the distance from the...