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Relativity

Special Theory of Relativity

longitudinal wave, unit of frequency, physics of sound, sound wave, speed of sound

Sound, physical phenomenon that stimulates the sense of hearing. In humans, hearing takes place whenever vibrations of frequencies from 15 hertz to about 20,000 hertz reach the inner ear. The hertz (Hz) is a unit of frequency equaling one vibration or cycle per second. Such vibrations reach the inner ear when they are transmitted through air. The speed of sound varies, but at sea level it travels through cool, dry air at about 1,190 km/h (740 mph). The term sound is sometimes restricted to such airborne vibrational waves. Modern physicists, however, usually extend the term to include similar vibrations in other gaseous, liquid, or solid media. Physicists also include vibrations of any frequency in any media, not just those that would be audible to humans. Sounds of frequencies above the range of normal human hearing, higher than about 20,000 Hz, are called ultrasonic.

This article deals with the physics of sound. For the anatomy of the human and animal hearing mechanism, see Ear. For the architectural science of designing rooms and buildings for desirable properties of sound propagation and reception, see Acoustics. For the general properties of the generation and propagation of vibrational waves, including sound waves, see Wave Motion. See also Oscillation.

In general waves can be propagated, or transmitted, transversely or longitudinally. In both cases, only the energy of wave motion is propagated through the medium; no portion of the medium itself actually moves very far. In transverse waves, the material through which the wave is transmitted vibrates perpendicular to the wave’s forward movement. As a simple example, a rope may be tied securely to a post at one end, and the other end pulled almost taut and then shaken once. A wave will travel down the rope to the post, and at that point it will be reflected and returned to the hand. No part of the rope actually moves longitudinally toward the post, but each successive portion of the rope moves transversely. This type of wave motion is called a transverse wave. Similarly, if a rock is thrown into a pool of water, a series of transverse waves moves out from the point of impact. A cork floating near the point of impact will bob up and down, that is, move transversely with respect to the direction of wave motion, but will show little if any outward, or longitudinal, motion.

A sound wave, on the other hand, is a longitudinal wave. As the energy of wave motion is propagated outward from the center of disturbance, the individual air molecules that carry the sound move back and forth, parallel to the direction of wave motion. Thus, a sound wave is a series of alternate increases and decreases of air pressure. Each individual molecule passes the energy on to neighboring molecules, but after the sound wave has passed, each molecule remains in about the same location.



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