Anatomy of an Electromagnetic Wave
Energy, a measure of the ability to do work, comes in many forms and can transform from one type to another. Examples of stored or potential energy include batteries and water behind a dam. Objects in motion are examples of kinetic energy. Charged particles—such as electrons and protons—create electromagnetic fields when they move, and these fields transport the type of energy we call electromagnetic radiation, or light.
What are Electromagnetic and Mechanical waves?
Mechanical waves and electromagnetic waves are two important ways that energy is transported in the world around us. Waves in water and sound waves in air are two examples of mechanical waves. Mechanical waves are caused by a disturbance or vibration in matter, whether solid, gas, liquid, or plasma. Matter that waves are traveling through is called a medium. Water waves are formed by vibrations in a liquid and sound waves are formed by vibrations in a gas (air). These mechanical waves travel through a medium by causing the molecules to bump into each other, like falling dominoes transferring energy from one to the next. Sound waves cannot travel in the vacuum of space because there is no medium to transmit these mechanical waves.
Electricity can be static, like the energy that can make your hair stand on end. Magnetism can also be static, as it is in a refrigerator magnet. A changing magnetic field will induce a changing electric field and vice-versa—the two are linked. These changing fields form electromagnetic waves. Electromagnetic waves differ from mechanical waves in that they do not require a medium to propagate. This means that electromagnetic waves can travel not only through air and solid materials, but also through the vacuum of space.
In the 1860's and 1870's, a Scottish scientist named James Clerk Maxwell developed a scientific theory to explain electromagnetic waves. He noticed that electrical fields and magnetic fields can couple together to form electromagnetic waves. He summarized this relationship between electricity and magnetism into what are now referred to as "Maxwell's Equations."
Heinrich Hertz, a German physicist, applied Maxwell's theories to the production and reception of radio waves. The unit of frequency of a radio wave -- one cycle per second -- is named the hertz, in honor of Heinrich Hertz.
His experiment with radio waves solved two problems. First, he had demonstrated in the concrete, what Maxwell had only theorized — that the velocity of radio waves was equal to the velocity of light! This proved that radio waves were a form of light! Second, Hertz found out how to make the electric and magnetic fields detach themselves from wires and go free as Maxwell's waves — electromagnetic waves.
WAVES OR PARTICLES? YES!
Light is made of discrete packets of energy called photons. Photons carry momentum, have no mass, and travel at the speed of light. All light has both particle-like and wave-like properties. How an instrument is designed to sense the light influences which of these properties are observed. An instrument that diffracts light into a spectrum for analysis is an example of observing the wave-like property of light. The particle-like nature of light is observed by detectors used in digital cameras—individual photons liberate electrons that are used for the detection and storage of the image data.
One of the physical properties of light is that it can be polarized. Polarization is a measurement of the electromagnetic field's alignment. In the figure above, the electric field (in red) is vertically polarized. Think of a throwing a Frisbee at a picket fence. In one orientation it will pass through, in another it will be rejected. This is similar to how sunglasses are able to eliminate glare by absorbing the polarized portion of the light.
DESCRIBING ELECTROMAGNETIC ENERGY
The terms light, electromagnetic waves, and radiation all refer to the same physical phenomenon: electromagnetic energy. This energy can be described by frequency, wavelength, or energy. All three are related mathematically such that if you know one, you can calculate the other two. Radio and microwaves are usually described in terms of frequency (Hertz), infrared and visible light in terms of wavelength (meters), and x-rays and gamma rays in terms of energy (electron volts). This is a scientific convention that allows the convenient use of units that have numbers that are neither too large nor too small.
The number of crests that pass a given point within one second is described as the frequency of the wave. One wave—or cycle—per second is called a Hertz (Hz), after Heinrich Hertz who established the existence of radio waves. A wave with two cycles that pass a point in one second has a frequency of 2 Hz.
Electromagnetic waves have crests and troughs similar to those of ocean waves. The distance between crests is the wavelength. The shortest wavelengths are just fractions of the size of an atom, while the longest wavelengths scientists currently study can be larger than the diameter of our planet!
An electromagnetic wave can also be described in terms of its energy—in units of measure called electron volts (eV). An electron volt is the amount of kinetic energy needed to move an electron through one volt potential. Moving along the spectrum from long to short wavelengths, energy increases as the wavelength shortens. Consider a jump rope with its ends being pulled up and down. More energy is needed to make the rope have more waves.
Next: Wave Behaviors
National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Science Mission Directorate. (2010). Anatomy of an Electromagnetic Wave. Retrieved [insert date - e.g. August 10, 2016] , from NASA Science website: http://science.nasa.gov/ems/02_anatomy
Science Mission Directorate. "Anatomy of an Electromagnetic Wave" NASA Science . 2010. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. [insert date - e.g. 10 Aug. 2016] http://science.nasa.gov/ems/02_anatomy
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Since the speed of a wave is defined as the distance that a point on a wave (such as a compression or a rarefaction) travels per unit of time, it is often expressed in units of meters/second (abbreviated m/s). In equation form, this is
The faster a sound wave travels, the more distance it will cover in the same period of time. If a sound wave were observed to travel a distance of 700 meters in 2 seconds, then the speed of the wave would be 350 m/s. A slower wave would cover less distance - perhaps 660 meters - in the same time period of 2 seconds and thus have a speed of 330 m/s. Faster waves cover more distance in the same period of time.
Factors Affecting Wave Speed
The speed of any wave depends upon the properties of the medium through which the wave is traveling. Typically there are two essential types of properties that affect wave speed - inertial properties and elastic properties. Elastic properties are those properties related to the tendency of a material to maintain its shape and not deform whenever a force or stress is applied to it. A material such as steel will experience a very small deformation of shape (and dimension) when a stress is applied to it. Steel is a rigid material with a high elasticity. On the other hand, a material such as a rubber band is highly flexible; when a force is applied to stretch the rubber band, it deforms or changes its shape readily. A small stress on the rubber band causes a large deformation. Steel is considered to be a stiff or rigid material, whereas a rubber band is considered a flexible material. At the particle level, a stiff or rigid material is characterized by atoms and/or molecules with strong attractions for each other. When a force is applied in an attempt to stretch or deform the material, its strong particle interactions prevent this deformation and help the material maintain its shape. Rigid materials such as steel are considered to have a high elasticity. (Elastic modulus is the technical term). The phase of matter has a tremendous impact upon the elastic properties of the medium. In general, solids have the strongest interactions between particles, followed by liquids and then gases. For this reason, longitudinal sound waves travel faster in solids than they do in liquids than they do in gases. Even though the inertial factor may favor gases, the elastic factor has a greater influence on the speed ( v ) of a wave, thus yielding this general pattern:
Inertial properties are those properties related to the material's tendency to be sluggish to changes in its state of motion. The density of a medium is an example of an inertial property . The greater the inertia (i.e., mass density) of individual particles of the medium, the less responsive they will be to the interactions between neighboring particles and the slower that the wave will be. As stated above, sound waves travel faster in solids than they do in liquids than they do in gases. However, within a single phase of matter, the inertial property of density tends to be the property that has a greatest impact upon the speed of sound. A sound wave will travel faster in a less dense material than a more dense material. Thus, a sound wave will travel nearly three times faster in Helium than it will in air. This is mostly due to the lower mass of Helium particles as compared to air particles.
The Speed of Sound in Air
The speed of a sound wave in air depends upon the properties of the air, mostly the temperature, and to a lesser degree, the humidity. Humidity is the result of water vapor being present in air. Like any liquid, water has a tendency to evaporate. As it does, particles of gaseous water become mixed in the air. This additional matter will affect the mass density of the air (an inertial property). The temperature will affect the strength of the particle interactions (an elastic property). At normal atmospheric pressure, the temperature dependence of the speed of a sound wave through dry air is approximated by the following equation:
where T is the temperature of the air in degrees Celsius. Using this equation to determine the speed of a sound wave in air at a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius yields the following solution.
v = 331 m/s + (0.6 m/s/C)•(20 C)
v = 331 m/s + 12 m/s
v = 343 m/s
(The above equation relating the speed of a sound wave in air to the temperature provides reasonably accurate speed values for temperatures between 0 and 100 Celsius. The equation itself does not have any theoretical basis; it is simply the result of inspecting temperature-speed data for this temperature range. Other equations do exist that are based upon theoretical reasoning and provide accurate data for all temperatures. Nonetheless, the equation above will be sufficient for our use as introductory Physics students.)
Look It Up!
Using wave speed to determine distances.
At normal atmospheric pressure and a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius, a sound wave will travel at approximately 343 m/s; this is approximately equal to 750 miles/hour. While this speed may seem fast by human standards (the fastest humans can sprint at approximately 11 m/s and highway speeds are approximately 30 m/s), the speed of a sound wave is slow in comparison to the speed of a light wave. Light travels through air at a speed of approximately 300 000 000 m/s; this is nearly 900 000 times the speed of sound. For this reason, humans can observe a detectable time delay between the thunder and the lightning during a storm. The arrival of the light wave from the location of the lightning strike occurs in so little time that it is essentially negligible. Yet the arrival of the sound wave from the location of the lightning strike occurs much later. The time delay between the arrival of the light wave (lightning) and the arrival of the sound wave (thunder) allows a person to approximate his/her distance from the storm location. For instance if the thunder is heard 3 seconds after the lightning is seen, then sound (whose speed is approximated as 345 m/s) has traveled a distance of
If this value is converted to miles (divide by 1600 m/1 mi), then the storm is a distance of 0.65 miles away.
Another phenomenon related to the perception of time delays between two events is an echo . A person can often perceive a time delay between the production of a sound and the arrival of a reflection of that sound off a distant barrier. If you have ever made a holler within a canyon, perhaps you have heard an echo of your holler off a distant canyon wall. The time delay between the holler and the echo corresponds to the time for the holler to travel the round-trip distance to the canyon wall and back. A measurement of this time would allow a person to estimate the one-way distance to the canyon wall. For instance if an echo is heard 1.40 seconds after making the holler , then the distance to the canyon wall can be found as follows:
The canyon wall is 242 meters away. You might have noticed that the time of 0.70 seconds is used in the equation. Since the time delay corresponds to the time for the holler to travel the round-trip distance to the canyon wall and back, the one-way distance to the canyon wall corresponds to one-half the time delay.
While an echo is of relatively minimal importance to humans, echolocation is an essential trick of the trade for bats. Being a nocturnal creature, bats must use sound waves to navigate and hunt. They produce short bursts of ultrasonic sound waves that reflect off objects in their surroundings and return. Their detection of the time delay between the sending and receiving of the pulses allows a bat to approximate the distance to surrounding objects. Some bats, known as Doppler bats, are capable of detecting the speed and direction of any moving objects by monitoring the changes in frequency of the reflected pulses. These bats are utilizing the physics of the Doppler effect discussed in an earlier unit (and also to be discussed later in Lesson 3 ). This method of echolocation enables a bat to navigate and to hunt.
The Wave Equation Revisited
Like any wave, a sound wave has a speed that is mathematically related to the frequency and the wavelength of the wave. As discussed in a previous unit , the mathematical relationship between speed, frequency and wavelength is given by the following equation.
Using the symbols v , λ , and f , the equation can be rewritten as
Check Your Understanding
1. An automatic focus camera is able to focus on objects by use of an ultrasonic sound wave. The camera sends out sound waves that reflect off distant objects and return to the camera. A sensor detects the time it takes for the waves to return and then determines the distance an object is from the camera. If a sound wave (speed = 340 m/s) returns to the camera 0.150 seconds after leaving the camera, how far away is the object?
Answer = 25.5 m
The speed of the sound wave is 340 m/s. The distance can be found using d = v • t resulting in an answer of 25.5 m. Use 0.075 seconds for the time since 0.150 seconds refers to the round-trip distance.
2. On a hot summer day, a pesky little mosquito produced its warning sound near your ear. The sound is produced by the beating of its wings at a rate of about 600 wing beats per second.
a. What is the frequency in Hertz of the sound wave? b. Assuming the sound wave moves with a velocity of 350 m/s, what is the wavelength of the wave?
Part a Answer: 600 Hz (given)
Part b Answer: 0.583 meters
3. Doubling the frequency of a wave source doubles the speed of the waves.
a. True b. False
Doubling the frequency will halve the wavelength; speed is unaffected by the alteration in the frequency. The speed of a wave depends upon the properties of the medium.
4. Playing middle C on the piano keyboard produces a sound with a frequency of 256 Hz. Assuming the speed of sound in air is 345 m/s, determine the wavelength of the sound corresponding to the note of middle C.
Answer: 1.35 meters (rounded)
Let λ = wavelength. Use v = f • λ where v = 345 m/s and f = 256 Hz. Rearrange the equation to the form of λ = v / f. Substitute and solve.
5. Most people can detect frequencies as high as 20 000 Hz. Assuming the speed of sound in air is 345 m/s, determine the wavelength of the sound corresponding to this upper range of audible hearing.
Answer: 0.0173 meters (rounded)
Let λ = wavelength. Use v = f • λ where v = 345 m/s and f = 20 000 Hz. Rearrange the equation to the form of λ = v / f. Substitute and solve.
6. An elephant produces a 10 Hz sound wave. Assuming the speed of sound in air is 345 m/s, determine the wavelength of this infrasonic sound wave.
Answer: 34.5 meters
Let λ = wavelength. Use v = f • λ where v = 345 m/s and f = 10 Hz. Rearrange the equation to the form of λ = v / f. Substitute and solve.
7. Determine the speed of sound on a cold winter day (T=3 degrees C).
Answer: 332.8 m/s
The speed of sound in air is dependent upon the temperature of air. The dependence is expressed by the equation:
v = 331 m/s + (0.6 m/s/C) • T
where T is the temperature in Celsius. Substitute and solve.
v = 331 m/s + (0.6 m/s/C) • 3 C v = 331 m/s + 1.8 m/s v = 332.8 m/s
8. Miles Tugo is camping in Glacier National Park. In the midst of a glacier canyon, he makes a loud holler. He hears an echo 1.22 seconds later. The air temperature is 20 degrees C. How far away are the canyon walls?
Answer = 209 m
The speed of the sound wave at this temperature is 343 m/s (using the equation described in the Tutorial). The distance can be found using d = v • t resulting in an answer of 343 m. Use 0.61 second for the time since 1.22 seconds refers to the round-trip distance.
9. Two sound waves are traveling through a container of unknown gas. Wave A has a wavelength of 1.2 m. Wave B has a wavelength of 3.6 m. The velocity of wave B must be __________ the velocity of wave A.
a. one-ninth b. one-third c. the same as d. three times larger than
The speed of a wave does not depend upon its wavelength, but rather upon the properties of the medium. The medium has not changed, so neither has the speed.
10. Two sound waves are traveling through a container of unknown gas. Wave A has a wavelength of 1.2 m. Wave B has a wavelength of 3.6 m. The frequency of wave B must be __________ the frequency of wave A.
Since Wave B has three times the wavelength of Wave A, it must have one-third the frequency. Frequency and wavelength are inversely related.
- Interference and Beats
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Course: physics library > unit 8.
- Production of sound
- Sound Properties: Amplitude, period, frequency, wavelength
Speed of Sound
- Relative speed of sound in solids, liquids, and gases
- Mach numbers
- Decibel Scale
- Why do sounds get softer?
- Ultrasound medical imaging
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[Physics FAQ] - [Copyright]
Updated 1998. Original by Philip Gibbs, 1997.
Is there an equivalent of the sonic boom for light?
A sonic boom is a shock wave that propagates from an aircraft or other object which is going faster than sound through the air (or other medium). In subsonic flight air is deflected smoothly around the wings. In supersonic flight this cannot happen, because the effect of the aircraft wings pushing the air ahead cannot travel faster than sound. The result is a sudden pressure change or shock wave which propagates away from the aircraft in a cone at the speed of sound.
Objects cannot travel faster than c , the speed of light in vacuum (see the FAQ article on faster-than-light travel ). But for light there is no ether to act as a medium being pushed aside like the air that is pushed by an aircraft. The result is that there is no equivalent of a sonic boom for light moving in a vacuum.
But light needn't always move in a vacuum. The phase velocity of light in a medium with refractive index n is v light = c/n . (See the FAQ article on faster-than-light travel for an explanation of phase velocity.) For example, water has a refractive index of about 1.3, so the speed of light in water is considerably less than the speed of light in vacuum. Furthermore, it's in fact possible for a particle to move through a medium such as water at a speed faster than the speed of light in that medium—though not faster than the speed of light in a vacuum.
When a charged particle does move through a medium at a speed higher than the speed of light in that medium, a faint radiation is produced by the medium. In water, for example, the charged particle excites the water molecules, which then return to their normal state by emitting photons of blue light. Because the particle is moving faster than the speed of light in water, it can trigger a cascade of photons that are in phase with each other and can interfere constructively to form a visible blue glow. The light propagates in a cone forward of the region where the interaction took place. An expression for the cone's half angle θ can easily be derived in terms of the speed v of the particle, by examining where wave fronts emitted from the track of the particle interfere constructively:
cos θ = v light / v .
This is analogous to the formula for the angle at which a sonic boom propagates.
This effect, known as Cherenkov radiation, was observed as a faint blue glow by Pavel Cherenkov in 1934 when he was asked to look at the effects of radioactivity in liquids. The explanation for the light was provided by Ilya Franc and Igor Tamm. It is possible to detect the Cherenkov radiation as it forms circles on a surface, and it can be used to measure the speed and direction the particle was travelling in. It is therefore a very useful means of studying the products of particle collisions and cosmic rays.
The blue glow in the water surrounding nuclear reactors is Cherenkov radiation. The water is there to stop neutrons; but neutrons are uncharged and so do not themselves directly cause the radiation. The Cherenkov radiation actually comes from beta particles (fast electrons) emitted by fission products. For most media blue light predominates over longer wavelengths of light, because the number of quanta emitted as Cherenkov radiation in a wavelength interval d l at wavelength l over a path length L is given by
d l 2πα L sin 2 θ/ l 2 ,
where α is the fine structure constant , equal to about 1/137. Notice that the refractive index, and therefore the angle θ, changes with wavelength l as demonstrated when a prism produces a spectrum from white light. This suppresses the rate at the small wavelengths of ultraviolet and beyond.
Although Cherenkov radiation is indeed an equivalent of the sonic boom for light, there are some essential differences between it and a real sonic boom (for sound). For sound, the shock wave is a non-linear effect of sound propagation, whereas for light, wave propagation is always linear. The means by which the waves are generated also differ for sound and for light.
A Side Note on the Refractive Index
Strictly speaking, the refractive index of a medium need not be greater than one. Indeed, it is almost always less than one for X rays, which means that the phase velocity of X rays in a medium is greater than c (since the refractive index is the ratio of phase velocity in vacuum ( c ) to phase velocity in the medium). The speed of the X ray photons is their group velocity , which will be less than c . For simplicity, we have ignored the distinction in velocities in this article. See the Relativity FAQ article on faster than light (phase velocity) for an explanation. (Thanks to Pieter Kuiper for pointing this out.)
- 14.1 Speed of Sound, Frequency, and Wavelength
- 1.1 Physics: Definitions and Applications
- 1.2 The Scientific Methods
- 1.3 The Language of Physics: Physical Quantities and Units
- Section Summary
- Key Equations
- Concept Items
- Critical Thinking Items
- Performance Task
- Multiple Choice
- Short Answer
- Extended Response
- 2.1 Relative Motion, Distance, and Displacement
- 2.2 Speed and Velocity
- 2.3 Position vs. Time Graphs
- 2.4 Velocity vs. Time Graphs
- 3.1 Acceleration
- 3.2 Representing Acceleration with Equations and Graphs
- 4.2 Newton's First Law of Motion: Inertia
- 4.3 Newton's Second Law of Motion
- 4.4 Newton's Third Law of Motion
- 5.1 Vector Addition and Subtraction: Graphical Methods
- 5.2 Vector Addition and Subtraction: Analytical Methods
- 5.3 Projectile Motion
- 5.4 Inclined Planes
- 5.5 Simple Harmonic Motion
- 6.1 Angle of Rotation and Angular Velocity
- 6.2 Uniform Circular Motion
- 6.3 Rotational Motion
- 7.1 Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion
- 7.2 Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation and Einstein's Theory of General Relativity
- 8.1 Linear Momentum, Force, and Impulse
- 8.2 Conservation of Momentum
- 8.3 Elastic and Inelastic Collisions
- 9.1 Work, Power, and the Work–Energy Theorem
- 9.2 Mechanical Energy and Conservation of Energy
- 9.3 Simple Machines
- 10.1 Postulates of Special Relativity
- 10.2 Consequences of Special Relativity
- 11.1 Temperature and Thermal Energy
- 11.2 Heat, Specific Heat, and Heat Transfer
- 11.3 Phase Change and Latent Heat
- 12.1 Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics: Thermal Equilibrium
- 12.2 First law of Thermodynamics: Thermal Energy and Work
- 12.3 Second Law of Thermodynamics: Entropy
- 12.4 Applications of Thermodynamics: Heat Engines, Heat Pumps, and Refrigerators
- 13.1 Types of Waves
- 13.2 Wave Properties: Speed, Amplitude, Frequency, and Period
- 13.3 Wave Interaction: Superposition and Interference
- 14.2 Sound Intensity and Sound Level
- 14.3 Doppler Effect and Sonic Booms
- 14.4 Sound Interference and Resonance
- 15.1 The Electromagnetic Spectrum
- 15.2 The Behavior of Electromagnetic Radiation
- 16.1 Reflection
- 16.2 Refraction
- 16.3 Lenses
- 17.1 Understanding Diffraction and Interference
- 17.2 Applications of Diffraction, Interference, and Coherence
- 18.1 Electrical Charges, Conservation of Charge, and Transfer of Charge
- 18.2 Coulomb's law
- 18.3 Electric Field
- 18.4 Electric Potential
- 18.5 Capacitors and Dielectrics
- 19.1 Ohm's law
- 19.2 Series Circuits
- 19.3 Parallel Circuits
- 19.4 Electric Power
- 20.1 Magnetic Fields, Field Lines, and Force
- 20.2 Motors, Generators, and Transformers
- 20.3 Electromagnetic Induction
- 21.1 Planck and Quantum Nature of Light
- 21.2 Einstein and the Photoelectric Effect
- 21.3 The Dual Nature of Light
- 22.1 The Structure of the Atom
- 22.2 Nuclear Forces and Radioactivity
- 22.3 Half Life and Radiometric Dating
- 22.4 Nuclear Fission and Fusion
- 22.5 Medical Applications of Radioactivity: Diagnostic Imaging and Radiation
- 23.1 The Four Fundamental Forces
- 23.2 Quarks
- 23.3 The Unification of Forces
- A | Reference Tables
Section Learning Objectives
By the end of this section, you will be able to do the following:
- Relate the characteristics of waves to properties of sound waves
- Describe the speed of sound and how it changes in various media
- Relate the speed of sound to frequency and wavelength of a sound wave
The learning objectives in this section will help your students master the following standards:
- (A) examine and describe oscillatory motion and wave propagation in various types of media;
- (B) investigate and analyze characteristics of waves, including velocity, frequency, amplitude, and wavelength, and calculate using the relationship between wave speed, frequency, and wavelength;
- (C) compare characteristics and behaviors of transverse waves, including electromagnetic waves and the electromagnetic spectrum, and characteristics and behaviors of longitudinal waves, including sound waves;
- (F) describe the role of wave characteristics and behaviors in medical and industrial applications.
In addition, the High School Physics Laboratory Manual addresses content in this section in the lab titled: Waves, as well as the following standards:
- (B) investigate and analyze characteristics of waves, including velocity, frequency, amplitude, and wavelength, and calculate using the relationship between wave speed, frequency, and wavelength.
Section Key Terms
[BL] [OL] Review waves and types of waves—mechanical and non-mechanical, transverse and longitudinal, pulse and periodic. Review properties of waves—amplitude, period, frequency, velocity and their inter-relations.
Properties of Sound Waves
Sound is a wave. More specifically, sound is defined to be a disturbance of matter that is transmitted from its source outward. A disturbance is anything that is moved from its state of equilibrium. Some sound waves can be characterized as periodic waves, which means that the atoms that make up the matter experience simple harmonic motion .
A vibrating string produces a sound wave as illustrated in Figure 14.2 , Figure 14.3 , and Figure 14.4 . As the string oscillates back and forth, part of the string’s energy goes into compressing and expanding the surrounding air. This creates slightly higher and lower pressures. The higher pressure... regions are compressions, and the low pressure regions are rarefactions . The pressure disturbance moves through the air as longitudinal waves with the same frequency as the string. Some of the energy is lost in the form of thermal energy transferred to the air. You may recall from the chapter on waves that areas of compression and rarefaction in longitudinal waves (such as sound) are analogous to crests and troughs in transverse waves .
The amplitude of a sound wave decreases with distance from its source, because the energy of the wave is spread over a larger and larger area. But some of the energy is also absorbed by objects, such as the eardrum in Figure 14.5 , and some of the energy is converted to thermal energy in the air. Figure 14.4 shows a graph of gauge pressure versus distance from the vibrating string. From this figure, you can see that the compression of a longitudinal wave is analogous to the peak of a transverse wave, and the rarefaction of a longitudinal wave is analogous to the trough of a transverse wave. Just as a transverse wave alternates between peaks and troughs, a longitudinal wave alternates between compression and rarefaction.
The Speed of Sound
[BL] Review the fact that sound is a mechanical wave and requires a medium through which it is transmitted.
[OL] [AL] Ask students if they know the speed of sound and if not, ask them to take a guess. Ask them why the sound of thunder is heard much after the lightning is seen during storms. This phenomenon is also observed during a display of fireworks. Through this discussion, develop the concept that the speed of sound is finite and measurable and is much slower than that of light.
The speed of sound varies greatly depending upon the medium it is traveling through. The speed of sound in a medium is determined by a combination of the medium’s rigidity (or compressibility in gases) and its density. The more rigid (or less compressible) the medium, the faster the speed of sound. The greater the density of a medium, the slower the speed of sound. The speed of sound in air is low, because air is compressible. Because liquids and solids are relatively rigid and very difficult to compress, the speed of sound in such media is generally greater than in gases. Table 14.1 shows the speed of sound in various media. Since temperature affects density, the speed of sound varies with the temperature of the medium through which it’s traveling to some extent, especially for gases.
Students might be confused between rigidity and density and how they affect the speed of sound. The speed of sound is slower in denser media. Solids are denser than gases. However, they are also very rigid, and hence sound travels faster in solids. Stress on the fact that the speed of sound always depends on a combination of these two properties of any medium.
[BL] Note that in the table, the speed of sound in very rigid materials such as glass, aluminum, and steel ... is quite high, whereas the speed in rubber, which is considerably less rigid, is quite low.
The Relationship Between the Speed of Sound and the Frequency and Wavelength of a Sound Wave
Sound, like all waves, travels at certain speeds through different media and has the properties of frequency and wavelength . Sound travels much slower than light—you can observe this while watching a fireworks display (see Figure 14.6 ), since the flash of an explosion is seen before its sound is heard.
The relationship between the speed of sound, its frequency, and wavelength is the same as for all waves:
where v is the speed of sound (in units of m/s), f is its frequency (in units of hertz), and λ λ is its wavelength (in units of meters). Recall that wavelength is defined as the distance between adjacent identical parts of a wave. The wavelength of a sound, therefore, is the distance between adjacent identical parts of a sound wave. Just as the distance between adjacent crests in a transverse wave is one wavelength, the distance between adjacent compressions in a sound wave is also one wavelength, as shown in Figure 14.7 . The frequency of a sound wave is the same as that of the source. For example, a tuning fork vibrating at a given frequency would produce sound waves that oscillate at that same frequency. The frequency of a sound is the number of waves that pass a point per unit time.
[BL] [OL] [AL] In musical instruments, shorter strings vibrate faster and hence produce sounds at higher pitches. Fret placements on instruments such as guitars, banjos, and mandolins, are mathematically determined to give the correct interval or change in pitch. When the string is pushed against the fret wire, the string is effectively shortened, changing its pitch. Ask students to experiment with strings of different lengths and observe how the pitch changes in each case.
One of the more important properties of sound is that its speed is nearly independent of frequency. If this were not the case, and high-frequency sounds traveled faster, for example, then the farther you were from a band in a football stadium, the more the sound from the low-pitch instruments would lag behind the high-pitch ones. But the music from all instruments arrives in cadence independent of distance, and so all frequencies must travel at nearly the same speed.
Recall that v = f λ v = f λ , and in a given medium under fixed temperature and humidity, v is constant. Therefore, the relationship between f and λ λ is inverse: The higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength of a sound wave.
Hold a meter stick flat on a desktop, with about 80 cm sticking out over the edge of the desk. Make the meter stick vibrate by pulling the tip down and releasing, while holding the meter stick tight to the desktop. While it is vibrating, move the stick back onto the desktop, shortening the part that is sticking out. Students will see the shortening of the vibrating part of the meter stick, and hear the pitch or number of vibrations go up—an increase in frequency.
The speed of sound can change when sound travels from one medium to another. However, the frequency usually remains the same because it is like a driven oscillation and maintains the frequency of the original source. If v changes and f remains the same, then the wavelength λ λ must change. Since v = f λ v = f λ , the higher the speed of a sound, the greater its wavelength for a given frequency.
[AL] Ask students to predict what would happen if the speeds of sound in air varied by frequency.
This simulation lets you see sound waves. Adjust the frequency or amplitude (volume) and you can see and hear how the wave changes. Move the listener around and hear what she hears. Switch to the Two Source Interference tab or the Interference by Reflection tab to experiment with interference and reflection.
Tips For Success
Make sure to have audio enabled and set to Listener rather than Speaker, or else the sound will not vary as you move the listener around.
- Because, intensity of the sound wave changes with the frequency.
- Because, the speed of the sound wave changes when the frequency is changed.
- Because, loudness of the sound wave takes time to adjust after a change in frequency.
- Because it takes time for sound to reach the listener, so the listener perceives the new frequency of sound wave after a delay.
- Yes, the speed of propagation depends only on the frequency of the wave.
- Yes, the speed of propagation depends upon the wavelength of the wave, and wavelength changes as the frequency changes.
- No, the speed of propagation depends only on the wavelength of the wave.
- No, the speed of propagation is constant in a given medium; only the wavelength changes as the frequency changes.
Voice as a Sound Wave
In this lab you will observe the effects of blowing and speaking into a piece of paper in order to compare and contrast different sound waves.
- sheet of paper
- Suspend a sheet of paper so that the top edge of the paper is fixed and the bottom edge is free to move. You could tape the top edge of the paper to the edge of a table, for example.
- Gently blow air near the edge of the bottom of the sheet and note how the sheet moves.
- Speak softly and then louder such that the sounds hit the edge of the bottom of the paper, and note how the sheet moves.
- Interpret the results.
Which sound wave property increases when you are speaking more loudly than softly?
- amplitude of the wave
- frequency of the wave
- speed of the wave
- wavelength of the wave
What are the wavelengths of audible sounds.
Calculate the wavelengths of sounds at the extremes of the audible range, 20 and 20,000 Hz, in conditions where sound travels at 348.7 m/s.
To find wavelength from frequency, we can use v = f λ v = f λ .
(1) Identify the knowns. The values for v and f are given.
(2) Solve the relationship between speed, frequency and wavelength for λ λ .
(3) Enter the speed and the minimum frequency to give the maximum wavelength.
(4) Enter the speed and the maximum frequency to give the minimum wavelength.
Because the product of f multiplied by λ λ equals a constant velocity in unchanging conditions, the smaller f is, the larger λ λ must be, and vice versa. Note that you can also easily rearrange the same formula to find frequency or velocity.
- 5 × 10 3 m / s
- 3.2 × 10 2 m / s
- 2 × 10 − 4 m/s
- 8 × 10 2 m / s
- 2.0 × 10 7 m
- 1.5 × 10 7 m
- 1.4 × 10 2 m
- 7.4 × 10 − 3 m
Links To Physics
Echolocation is the use of reflected sound waves to locate and identify objects. It is used by animals such as bats, dolphins and whales, and is also imitated by humans in SONAR—Sound Navigation and Ranging—and echolocation technology.
Bats, dolphins and whales use echolocation to navigate and find food in their environment. They locate an object (or obstacle) by emitting a sound and then sensing the reflected sound waves. Since the speed of sound in air is constant, the time it takes for the sound to travel to the object and back gives the animal a sense of the distance between itself and the object. This is called ranging . Figure 14.8 shows a bat using echolocation to sense distances.
Echolocating animals identify an object by comparing the relative intensity of the sound waves returning to each ear to figure out the angle at which the sound waves were reflected. This gives information about the direction, size and shape of the object. Since there is a slight distance in position between the two ears of an animal, the sound may return to one of the ears with a bit of a delay, which also provides information about the position of the object. For example, if a bear is directly to the right of a bat, the echo will return to the bat’s left ear later than to its right ear. If, however, the bear is directly ahead of the bat, the echo would return to both ears at the same time. For an animal without a sense of sight such as a bat, it is important to know where other animals are as well as what they are; their survival depends on it.
Principles of echolocation have been used to develop a variety of useful sensing technologies. SONAR, is used by submarines to detect objects underwater and measure water depth. Unlike animal echolocation, which relies on only one transmitter (a mouth) and two receivers (ears), manmade SONAR uses many transmitters and beams to get a more accurate reading of the environment. Radar technologies use the echo of radio waves to locate clouds and storm systems in weather forecasting, and to locate aircraft for air traffic control. Some new cars use echolocation technology to sense obstacles around the car, and warn the driver who may be about to hit something (or even to automatically parallel park). Echolocation technologies and training systems are being developed to help visually impaired people navigate their everyday environments.
- The echo would return to the left ear first.
- The echo would return to the right ear first.
Check Your Understanding
Use these questions to assess student achievement of the section’s Learning Objectives. If students are struggling with a specific objective, these questions will help identify which and direct students to the relevant content.
- Rarefaction is the high-pressure region created in a medium when a longitudinal wave passes through it.
- Rarefaction is the low-pressure region created in a medium when a longitudinal wave passes through it.
- Rarefaction is the highest point of amplitude of a sound wave.
- Rarefaction is the lowest point of amplitude of a sound wave.
What sort of motion do the particles of a medium experience when a sound wave passes through it?
- Simple harmonic motion
- Circular motion
- Random motion
- Translational motion
What does the speed of sound depend on?
- The wavelength of the wave
- The size of the medium
- The frequency of the wave
- The properties of the medium
What property of a gas would affect the speed of sound traveling through it?
- The volume of the gas
- The flammability of the gas
- The mass of the gas
- The compressibility of the gas
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- Q & A / Science
Why do radio waves travel at the speed of light and not sound?
by How It Works Team · 06/07/2013
Radio waves are a form of electromagnetic radiation – the same phenomenon as light, X-rays and various other types of radiation, but with much longer wavelengths. As such, they travel at the speed of light (ie 300,000 kilometres/186,000 miles per second) – a lot faster than the 340 metres (1,125 feet) per second that sound itself moves through the air. It’s easy to be fooled by the fact that when you hear the word ‘radio’, you usually think of voices or music, but radio waves aren’t sounds themselves – just the medium used to broadcast an electronic signal from the studio to your hi-fi, which the speaker then turns back into the vibrations in the air which we hear.
Answered by Giles Sparrow.
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The Speed of Sound in Air
After reading this section you will be able to do the following:.
- Discuss the relationship between the speed of sound and speed of light.
- Describe what the sound barrier is.
Sound and speed
If you have ever been to a baseball game or sat far away from the stage during a concert, you may have noticed something odd. You saw the batter hit the ball, but did not hear the crack of the impact until a few seconds later. Or, you saw the drummer strike the drum, but it took an extra moment before you heard it. This is because the speed of sound is slower than the speed of light, which we are used to seeing. The same thing is at work during a thunderstorm. Lightning and thunder both happen at the same time. We see the lightning almost instantaneously, but it takes longer to hear the thunder. Based on how much longer it takes to hear thunder tells us how far away the storm is. The longer it takes to hear the thunder, the farther the distance its sound had to travel and the farther away the storm is.
The sound barrier
The speed of sound through warm air at sea level has been measured at 346 meters per second or 0.346 km per second. That is the same as a car traveling about 780 miles per hour! Even most jet airplanes do not travel that fast. When a plane does go faster than speed of sound, it is said to break the sound barrier and a sonic boom is produced. On October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager did just that. In a small plane called the X-1, he was the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound and the listeners on the ground were the first to hear the loud shock wave of a sonic boom.
Why do we see lightning before the thunder?
The flash of light from lightning travels at about 300,000 kilometers per second or 186,000 miles per second. This is why we see it so much sooner than we hear the thunder. If lightning occurs a kilometer away, the light arrives almost immediately (1/300,000 of a second) but it takes sound nearly 3 seconds to arrive. If you prefer to think in terms of miles, it takes sound nearly 5 seconds to travel 1 mile. Next time you see lightning count the number of seconds before the thunder arrives, then divide this number by 5 to find out how far away the lightning is.
- The speed of sound through warm air at sea level has been measured at 346 meters per second while the speed of light is 3*10^8 meters per second.
- The sound barrier is broken when something goes faster than the speed of sound.
Speed of Sound Calculator
Speed of sound in air, speed of sound in water, how to use the speed of sound calculator.
This speed of sound calculator determines the speed of sound in the air and water .
Not everybody knows about the sound speed dependence on the temperature – the higher the air temperature, the faster the sound can propagate.
To calculate the speed of sound in water , just choose the temperature – Fahrenheit °F or Celsius °C. You can also choose the desired unit – with this tool, you can find the speed of sound in mph, ft/s, or even knots!
Air is almost an ideal gas. The formula for the speed of sound in ideal gases is:
- c c c – Speed of sound in an ideal gas;
- R R R – Molar gas constant, approximately 8.314,5 J·mol −1 ·K −1 ;
- γ \gamma γ – Adiabatic index, approximately 1.4 for air;
- T T T – Absolute temperature; and
- M M M – The molar mass of the gas. For dry air is about 0.028,964,5 kg/mol
Substituting the values for air, we have the simplified formula for the speed of sound in m/s:
where T T T is in °C.
Did you notice something interesting? The speed of sound in the gas depends only on two constants – γ \gamma γ and R R R – and on the temperature but not on the air pressure or density, as it is sometimes claimed. The humidity of air also has an effect on the speed of sound, but the influence is so small that it can be neglected. The temperature is the only important factor!
The most often used value is 1482 m/s (for 20 °C); however, an easy formula for the speed of sound in water doesn't exist. Many authors derived equations from experimental data, but the equations are complicated, and they always contain higher-order polynomials and plenty of coefficients.
The data in our calculator for speed in water comes from the speed of sound in water charts . The speed of sound in water is an important parameter in sonar research and acoustical oceanography. Nevertheless, the formula for seawater is even more complex as the speed of sound is also changing with the salinity.
💡 How about the speed of sound in solids? Well, our speed of sound in solids calculator can help you calculate it.
Let's calculate how the sound propagates in cold water – like really cold, from wintering swimming activities.
Choose the section you need – the speed of sound in water or air . It's water in our case, so we will use the bottom part of the calculator.
Pick the temperature unit . Let's take degrees Fahrenheit.
Select the temperature from a drop-down list . Take this freezingly cold 40 °F.
The speed of sound calculator displays the speed of sound in water ; it's 4672 ft/s.
Let's compare it with 90 °F (warm bath temperature). The speed is equal to 4960 ft/s this time. Remember that you can always change the units of speed of sound: mph, ft/s, m/s, km/h, even to knots if you wish to.
Now, as you know the speed, calculate the time or distance with this speed calculator . Also, you can check how far the storm is with our lightning distance calculator – the speed of sound in air is a significant factor for that calculations.
How do I calculate the speed of sound in air given temperature?
To determine the speed of sound in air, follow these steps:
- If you're given the air temperature in °C or °F, you need to first convert it to kelvins .
- Add 1 to the temperature in kelvins and take the square root .
- Multiply the result from Step 2 by 331.3 .
- You've just determined the speed of sound in the air in m/s – congrats!
How does the speed of sound change with temperature?
The speed of sound increases as the air temperature increases. The precise formula is:
c_air = 331.3 × √(1 + T/273.15) ,
where T is the air temperature in °C. This formula returns speed in m/s.
What is the speed of sound in air?
Assuming the air temperature of 20 °C, the speed of sound is:
- 343.14 m/s;
- 1235.3 km/h;
- 1125.8 ft/s; or
You can derive these results by applying the formula c_air = 331.3 × √(1 + T/273.15) , where T = 20°C. The result is in m/s, and then, if needed, you have to convert it to other speed units.
What is the speed of sound in water?
Assuming the water temperature of 20 °C, the speed of sound is:
- 4859 ft/s; or
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Gay-lussacs's law, millionaire, terminal velocity.
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- Sound Waves
- Speed Of Sound Propagation
Speed of Sound
A sound wave is fundamentally a pressure disturbance that propagates through a medium by particle interaction. In other words, sound waves move through a physical medium by alternately contracting and expanding the section of the medium in which it propagates. The rate at which the sound waves propagate through the medium is known as the speed of sound. In this article, you will discover the definition and factors affecting the speed of sound.
Speed of Sound Definition
The speed of sound is defined as the distance through which a sound wave’s point, such as a compression or a rarefaction, travels per unit of time. The speed of sound remains the same for all frequencies in a given medium under the same physical conditions.
Speed of Sound Formula
Since the speed of sound is the distance travelled by the sound wave in a given time, the speed of sound can be determined by the following formula:
v = λ f
Where v is the velocity, λ is the wavelength of the sound wave, and f is the frequency.
The relationship between the speed of sound, its frequency, and wavelength is the same as for all waves. The wavelength of a sound is the distance between adjacent compressions or rarefactions . The frequency is the same as the source’s and is the number of waves that pass a point per unit time.
How long does it take for a sound wave of frequency 2 kHz and a wavelength of 35 cm to travel a distance of 1.5 km?
We know that the speed of sound is given by the formula:
v = λ ν
Substituting the values in the equation, we get
v = 0.35 m × 2000 Hz = 700 m/s
The time taken by the sound wave to travel a distance of 1.5 km can be calculated as follows:
Time = Distance Travelled/ Velocity
Time = 1500 m/ 700 m/s = 2.1 s
Factors Affecting the Speed of Sound
Density and temperature of the medium in which the sound wave travels affect the speed of sound.
Density of the Medium
When the medium is dense, the molecules in the medium are closely packed, which means that the sound travels faster. Therefore, the speed of sound increases as the density of the medium increases.
Temperature of the Medium
The speed of sound is directly proportional to the temperature. Therefore, as the temperature increases, the speed of sound increases.
Speed of Sound in Different Media
The speed of the sound depends on the density and the elasticity of the medium through which it travels. In general, sound travels faster in liquids than in gases and quicker in solids than in liquids. The greater the elasticity and the lower the density, the faster sound travels in a medium.
Speed of Sound in Solid
Sound is nothing more than a disturbance propagated by the collisions between the particles, one molecule hitting the next and so forth. Solids are significantly denser than liquids or gases, and this means that the molecules are closer to each other in solids than in liquids and liquids than in gases. This closeness due to density means that they can collide very quickly. Effectively it takes less time for a molecule of a solid to bump into its neighbouring molecule. Due to this advantage, the velocity of sound in a solid is faster than in a gas.
The speed of sound in solid is 6000 metres per second, while the speed of sound in steel is equal to 5100 metres per second. Another interesting fact about the speed of sound is that sound travels 35 times faster in diamonds than in the air.
Speed of Sound in Liquid
Speed of Sound in Water
The speed of sound in water is more than that of the air, and sound travels faster in water than in the air. The speed of sound in water is 1480 metres per second. It is also interesting that the speed may vary between 1450 to 1498 metres per second in distilled water. In contrast, seawater’s speed is 1531 metres per second when the temperature is between 20 o C to 25 o C.
Speed of Sound in Gas
We should remember that the speed of sound is independent of the density of the medium when it enters a liquid or solid. Since gases expand to fill the given space, density is relatively uniform irrespective of gas type, which isn’t the case with solids and liquids. The velocity of sound in gases is proportional to the square root of the absolute temperature (measured in Kelvin). Still, it is independent of the frequency of the sound wave or the pressure and the density of the medium. But none of the gases we find in real life is ideal gases , and this causes the properties to change slightly. The velocity of sound in air at 20 o C is 343.2 m/s which translates to 1,236 km/h.
Speed of Sound in Vacuum
The speed of sound in a vacuum is zero metres per second, as there are no particles present in the vacuum. The sound waves travel in a medium when there are particles for the propagation of these sound waves. Since the vacuum is an empty space, there is no propagation of sound waves.
Table of Speed of Sound in Various Mediums
Another very curious fact is that in solids, sound waves can be created either by compression or by tearing of the solid, also known as Shearing. Such waves exhibit different properties from each other and also travel at different speeds. This effect is seen clearly in Earthquakes. Earthquakes are created due to the movement of the earth’s plates, which then send these disturbances in the form of waves similar to sound waves through the earth and to the surface, causing an Earthquake. Typically compression waves travel faster than tearing waves, so Earthquakes always start with an up-and-down motion, followed after some time by a side-to-side motion. In seismic terms, the compression waves are called P-waves, and the tearing waves are called S-waves . They are the more destructive of the two, causing most of the damage in an earthquake.
Visualise sound waves like never before with the help of animations provided in the video
Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs
What is the speed of sound in vacuum, name the property used for distinguishing a sharp sound from a dull sound., define the intensity of sound., how does the speed of sound depend on the elasticity of the medium, why is the speed of sound maximum in solids, name the factors on which the speed of sound in a gas depends., what is a sonic boom, the below video helps to completely revise the chapter sound class 9.
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How fast do radio waves travel.
We use radio waves from television and cellular service to navigation and air traffic control. Still, we don’t often stop appreciating them and just how crazy fast they really are. So, how fast do radio waves travel anyway?
Topics Covered - Index
How Fast Do Radio Waves Travel Through Space?
How long does it take for a radio signal to reach pluto, how long does it take for a radio message to travel from earth to the moon and back, how long does it take for radio waves to travel to the sun, how fast are radio waves compared to other types, can we detect radio waves from an alien civilization, so really, how fast do radio waves travel.
Unimpeded, radio waves travel at the speed of light because they are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. In terms of miles, radio waves travel at approximately 186,000 miles per second or 300,000,000 meters per second.
If you’re a science lover or just curious about the technology that makes your life easier, you’ve come to the right place. In the sections below, we will break down how fast radio waves travel, whether they’re in space or here on earth.
We’ll also answer interesting questions like how long it takes for radio waves to reach the moon or pluto. So let’s just dive right in!
There is a common misconception that radio waves travel slower through space than they do through the air. The truth is that radio waves travel at the speed of light, even in space. It might seem like it’s taking them longer because space is so vast that even light and radio waves take considerable time to make their way across it.
There are galaxies we will never be able to see because they are so far away from us that the speed of light waves can’t keep up with the expansion of the universe. The same, of course, would be true of any radio waves coming from a civilization outside the observable universe.
To get some perspective on how vast the distances are that radio waves travel through space , let’s see how long it takes for them to travel from our friendly rock Earth to the dwarf planet Pluto.
Radio waves take about four and a half hours to travel from Earth to Pluto. That’s because the waves must travel about three billion miles before reaching their destination.
Now let’s look at an object that’s a little closer. Our moon . The question is, how long does it take for a radio message to travel from the earth to the moon and back?
Radio waves can travel to the moon and back at an average of about 2.56 seconds. Therefore if you sent radio waves on a journey to the moon and back, it would be the blink of an eye before they return. They can make it quickly because the distance from Earth to the moon is only about 238,855 miles. When compared to the 92.5 million miles between Earth and the Sun, that’s nothing.
You may be wondering, what about the sun then? How long does it take for radio waves to travel from the earth to the sun?
Radio waves take eight minutes to make their way from the earth to the sun.
That may seem like a short period, but remember, these waves are traveling at the speed of light. This just goes to show how unbelievably big our solar system is, let alone the whole universe.
To really get an idea of just how incredibly fast radio waves to travel, you just need to compare them to other kinds of waves like sound waves and light waves.
Below we’ve listed two other types of waves and their speed compared to radio waves:
- Sound waves : Radio waves are a form of electromagnetic wave. Sound waves on the other hand, are a form of mechanical waves. Mechanical waves are not nearly as fast as electromagnetic waves because they are not made of light. Therefore sound waves can only travel 1,100 feet per second. That’s a far cry from the speed of light.
- Light waves : Like radio waves, light waves are also a form of electromagnetic wave. As such, light waves also travel at the speed of light. The main difference between light waves and radio waves is their frequency.
The only thing that technically moves faster than the speed of radio waves or light isn’t a wave at all. The only thing faster than the speed of light is the expansion of the universe itself. That’s why radio waves outside the observable universe will never actually reach us.
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Let’s end on a fun note. Because radio waves can travel so far, so quickly, it’s only natural to wonder if we could detect radio waves sent out by an alien civilization living somewhere else in the universe.
While it is possible for us to detect radio waves from an alien civilization, the following issues make it less probable that we will:
- The vastness of space: It’s hard to even wrap your head around just how ridiculously big the universe we live in is. Every indication we have now suggests that intelligent life is relatively rare, so knowing where to point our satellites is like a shot in the dark.
- Radio waves diffuse: The real challenge is that as radio waves travel, they become diffused and unreadable. Therefore, if the advanced civilization is just a little too far away, it would be much harder to distinguish and interpret the radio waves they send.
There have been scientific projects like SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) that have aimed satellites at the sky in the hopes of detecting a signal. Sadly, every single thing they’ve detected that seemed like it could be from aliens has turned out not to be so far. Still, the future isn’t written, so maybe someday that will be successful.
The only thing faster than traveling radio waves is the expansion of the universe. That’s because radio waves actually travel at the speed of light or 186,000 miles per second.
This means that radio waves could travel to the sun in about eight minutes and to Pluto in about four and a half hours. Considering the vast distances between us and those objects, we can definitively say radio waves travel quickly.
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