Difference Between Distance vs Displacement
When you set out for a trip, you are most likely to want to follow the fastest route to your destination. This will save you some fuel, time, and energy that you would have spent if you had taken a longer route.
The span you cover can be referred to as displacement or distance depending on a number of things that we will look into in this post to show the difference between displacement and distance.
These are common concepts in basic physics and even in our day-to-day lives. Understanding these two terms will help you see the extent of something more accurately.
Definition of Distance
Distance is defined as the dimension of space between two points following the paths that link them. It is defined by the magnitude alone, which makes it a scalar quantity.
While measuring, you are only concerned with the area covered by an object that has moved from a specified position A to another specified position B. In other words, the direction taken by the object in the course of the travel is not taken into consideration.
Usually, this term is denoted by the letter “D.” Here is the formula for finding this quantity.
- D = Speed × Time
Speed is the rate at which the object moves, and time quantifies existence and events in the past, present, and future.
Another difference between distance and displacement is that in the case of distance, the possible value can only have a positive value unlike in the other case, which we will discuss in the next section, where the possible value can be zero, positive, or negative. The span in this case can either be a straight or a non-straight path depending on whether there is a change of course or not.
Definition of Displacement
Displacement is defined as the extent between two points following the shortest path that links them. It is defined as a vector quantity, which takes into consideration both the magnitude and direction of the quantity.
When measuring the value, the focus is on the shortest distance from one point to another. This means that the direction taken in the course of moving from one destination to another matters a lot.
This quantity is denoted by the letter “S.” Here is the formula for finding this quantity.
- S = Velocity × Time
Velocity is the rate of motion at any given time in a particular direction, and time is the record of existence and events in the past, present, and future.
When comparing distance vs displacement, it is obvious that the observer will not get a detailed description of the path followed by the body. In a graphical representation, it is denoted by an arrow, and it can only be estimated in a straight path.
Main Differences Between Distance vs Displacement
To more easily grasp these concepts and their characteristics, we have highlighted the results of comparing displacement vs distance in the table below. Hopefully, a simple glance at it will help you gain a better understanding of what these two terms are all about.
|Basis of Comparison
|The dimension of space between two points following the paths that link them
|The extent between two points following the shortest path that links them
|Only positive values
|Values can be positive, negative, and zero
|Uniqueness of path taken
|Path not unique
|Path is unique
|Speed × Time
|Velocity × Time
Difference Between Distance and Displacement: Conclusion
It is understandable why people may think these two quantities are the same when in an actual sense, they are not. They are both used in the recording of the dimensions between two points. The basic difference is that distance is concerned with the total area covered, while displacement is concerned with the shortest route possible from the starting point to another.
The former can be quantified following a path that is not straight, which does not really matter as long as it leads to the expected destination. This is not the case with the latter, where the utmost concern is the shortest route from a starting point to another point. The former has positive values, while the latter has positive, negative, and even zero values.