The law of **conservation of linear momentum** is a fundamental law of nature, and it states that if no external force acts on a closed system of objects, the momentum of the closed system remains constant. One of the consequences of this is that the center of mass of any system of objects will always continue with the same velocity unless acted on by a force from outside the system.

Conservation of momentum is a mathematical consequence of the homogeneity (shift symmetry) of space (position in space is the canonical conjugate quantity to momentum). That is, conservation of momentum is equivalent to the fact that the physical laws do not depend on position.

In analytical mechanics the conservation of momentum is a consequence of translational invariance of Lagrangian in the absence of external forces. It can be proven that the total momentum is a constant of motion by making an infinitesimal translation of Lagrangian and then equating it with non translated Lagrangian. This is a special case of Noether's theorem .^{}

In an isolated system (one where external forces are absent) the total momentum will be constant: this is implied by Newton's first law of motion. Newton's third law of motion, the law of reciprocal actions, which dictates that the forces acting between systems are equal in magnitude, but opposite in sign, is due to the conservation of momentum.

Since position in space is a vector quantity, momentum (being the canonical conjugate of position) is a vector quantity as well—it has direction. Thus, when a gun is fired, the final total momentum of the system (the gun and the bullet) is the vector sum of the momenta of these two objects. Assuming that the gun and bullet were at rest prior to firing (meaning the initial momentum of the system was zero), the final total momentum must also equal 0.

In an isolated system with only two objects, the change in momentum of one object must be equal and opposite to the change in momentum of the other object. Mathematically,

A common problem in physics that requires the use of this fact is the collision of two particles. Since momentum is always conserved, the sum of the momenta before the collision must equal the sum of the momenta after the collision:

**u**

_{1}and

**u**

_{2}are the velocities before collision, and

**v**

_{1}and

**v**

_{2}are the velocities after collision.

Determining the final velocities from the initial velocities (and vice versa) depend on the type of collision. There are two types of collisions that conserve momentum: elastic collisions, which also conserve kinetic energy, and inelastic collisions, which do not.

### Elastic collisions

A collision between two pool balls is a good example of an*almost*totally elastic collision, due to their high rigidity; a totally elastic collision exists only in theory, occurring between bodies with mathematically infinite rigidity. In addition to momentum being conserved when the two balls collide, the sum of kinetic energy before a collision must equal the sum of kinetic energy after:

#### In one dimension

When the initial velocities are known, the final velocities for a head-on collision are given by*m*

_{1}»

*m*

_{2}), the final velocities are approximately given by

In a head-on collision between two bodies of equal mass (that is,

*m*

_{1}=

*m*

_{2}), the final velocities are given by

**u**

_{1}and the second body is at rest, then after collision the first body will be at rest and the second body will travel with velocity

**u**

_{1}. This phenomenon is demonstrated by Newton's cradle.

#### In multiple dimensions

In the case of objects colliding in more than one dimension, as in oblique collisions, the velocity is resolved into orthogonal components with one component perpendicular to the plane of collision and the other component or components in the plane of collision. The velocity components in the plane of collision remain unchanged, while the velocity perpendicular to the plane of collision is calculated in the same way as the one-dimensional case.For example, in a two-dimensional collision, the momenta can be resolved into

*x*and

*y*components. We can then calculate each component separately, and combine them to produce a vector result. The magnitude of this vector is the final momentum of the isolated system.

#### Perfectly inelastic collisions

A common example of a perfectly inelastic collision is when two snowballs collide and then*stick*together afterwards. This equation describes the conservation of momentum:

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