Q:

What causes sound waves?

A:

Quick Answer

Pressure waves in the air cause sound waves to form. However, sound waves can also form in water and in solids. The speed of sound varies significantly depending on the temperature and medium it travels through.

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What causes sound waves?
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Full Answer

Sound is considered a wave, but it is not a form of electromagnetic radiation like light. Instead, sound is a pressure wave that forms when the media it is traveling in is disrupted in some way. Because it needs a medium to form and propagate, sound cannot travel in a vacuum; there is no sound in space.

The speed of sound varies based on the density of the medium it travels through. Sound travels faster in water than in air, and it travels even faster in solids. When a sound wave travels from one medium to another, much of the wave is reflected. Because of this, thin barriers can effectively block most sound.

The speed of sound is lower in the upper atmosphere, which created problems for some early aircraft. Traveling at supersonic speeds places a tremendous amount of stress on an aircraft, and the control surfaces, especially those on the tail of the plane, will cease working if the aircraft is not designed for supersonic flight.

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Related Questions

  • Q:

    What are examples of sound waves?

    A:

    Music, speech and explosions are all examples of sound waves. Sound waves are mechanical vibrations in a compressible medium. The larger the amplitude of the waves, the louder the wave sounds. Because mechanical vibrations require a medium to vibrate, sound does not manifest in vacuums, such as space.

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  • Q:

    How do sound waves transfer energy?

    A:

    Sound waves transfer energy by causing successive compressions and rarefactions in the particles of the medium without transporting the medium particles themselves. Sound in solids can also manifest as transverse waves, causing crests and troughs in the propagation medium.

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    What are ultrasonic sound waves?

    A:

    Ultrasonic sound waves are waves of sound beyond the range of perception. These sound waves are used by bats and dolphins for navigation and by medical imaging and in non-destructive testing.

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  • Q:

    Why are sound waves classified as mechanical?

    A:

    Sound is classified as a mechanical wave because it requires a medium to propagate its energy and cannot be heard in vacuum.

    There are two broad classes of waves - mechanical and electromagnetic. One requires a medium to be heard, and the other does not. Full Answer >
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