Q:

How do sound waves work?

A:

Quick Answer

Sound occurs as a result of the back-and-forth vibration of sound waves travelling across a medium. A sound wave is sometimes referred to as a pressure wave because it contains repeating patterns of high-pressure and low-pressure regions.

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The regions of high pressure in a sound wave are compressions, whereas the regions of low pressure are called rarefactions. A wavelength is a measurement of the distance compressions and rarefactions travel in one complete wave cycle. Sound waves are easily detectable by human ears and can be created using devices such as Fourier synthesizers. The detection of high- and low-pressure sound waves by the eardrum creates the perception of sound at varying frequencies.

The velocity of a sound wave decreases in liquids and increases in the presence of gas. When a sound wave encounters a surface, it is reflected and absorbed depending on the material of the surface. It is important to note that sound waves travelling through air are considered longitudinal waves as opposed to transverse waves. According to The Physics Room, the former occurs when motion of the particles is parallel and anti-parallel to the direction of the energy transport, while the latter refers to motion occurring perpendicular to the direction of energy transfer.

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Related Questions

  • Q:

    How are electromagnetic waves different from mechanical waves?

    A:

    Electromagnetic and mechanical waves differ in that electromagnetic waves are always longitudinal and do not require a known medium, while mechanical waves are either longitudinal or compression waves and require a medium. All known electromagnetic waves are also known as forms of light. An example of a longitudinal mechanical wave is a wave in water, while sound is an example of a compression wave.

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  • Q:

    What are transverse waves?

    A:

    A transverse wave is one where the displacement of the medium in which the wave is travelling is perpendicular to its propagation. A pond ripple is an example of a transverse wave.

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  • Q:

    How do waves travel?

    A:

    Waves travel by transferring energy from particle to particle through a medium such as air or water. In some cases, this energy transfer creates a motion perpendicular to the direction of travel, creating transverse waves. Other waves travel by compressing the medium and creating motion parallel to the direction of movement, such as the longitudinal waves that transmit sound through the air.

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  • Q:

    How does sound travel?

    A:

    Sound travels through a medium as a mechanical wave. It cannot travel in a vacuum because it travels by vibrating the particles of the medium to transfer energy from one place to another.

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