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Property that describes the rotary inertia of a system in motion about an axis. It is a vector quantity, having both magnitude and direction. The magnitude of the angular momentum of an object is the product of its linear momentum (mass m velocity v) and the perpendicular distance r from the centre of rotation, or mvr. The direction is that of the axis of rotation. The angular momentum of an isolated system is constant. This means that a rigid spinning object continues to spin at a constant rate unless acted upon by an external torque. A spinning gyroscope in an airplane remains fixed in its orientation, independent of the airplane's motion, because of the conservation of direction as well as magnitude.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on angular momentum, visit Britannica.com.