Wed January 18, 2012 By: Hannah Basil

Why or how does the density and pressure changes when sound propogates?

Expert Reply
Wed January 18, 2012
Sound is a mechanical wave that results from the back and forth vibration of the particles of the medium through which the sound wave is moving. If a sound wave is moving from left to right through air, then particles of air will be displaced both rightward and leftward as the energy of the sound wave passes through it. The motion of the particles is parallel (and anti-parallel) to the direction of the energy transport. This is what characterizes sound waves in air as longitudinal waves.

A vibrating tuning fork is capable of creating such a longitudinal wave. As the tines of the fork vibrate back and forth, they push on neighboring air particles. The forward motion of a tine pushes air molecules horizontally to the right and the backward retraction of the tine creates a low-pressure area allowing the air particles to move back to the left.

Because of the longitudinal motion of the air particles, there are regions in the air where the air particles are compressed together and other regions where the air particles are spread apart. These regions are known as compressions and rarefactions respectively. The compressions are regions of high air pressure (as well as density) while the rarefactions are regions of low air pressure(as well as density).
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