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Information From Around The Globe

What Are Waves?

Waves are an everyday occurrence – ripples in water, sound waves generated when a string or drum is pulled, and hand waves. No matter which type of wave it is, each requires some kind of medium through which to travel; something that can carry the energy being transferred.

Waves at Their Base

Waves are disturbances that travel through a medium, transporting energy from one location (its source) to another without transferring matter. This process is known as “transmutation.” Each particle in the medium is temporarily displaced and then returned to its original equilibrium position; this could cause variations in pressure, temperature, electric or magnetic field intensity or shape deformation.

What Are Waves?

Waves come in many forms, from a finite width pulse to an infinitely long sine wave. In this article we’ll look at three major types of waves: mechanical, electromagnetic and gravitational.

The Two Most Influential Types of Mechanical Waves

All mechanical waves need a medium through which to travel – matter that can carry their energy. Examples include sound, water and seismic waves.

Waves that transfer energy without the use of a medium, such as light and radio waves, don’t need an intermediary to travel.

Other kinds of waves require a medium through which to propagate, but don’t require matter for propagation. These are electromagnetic waves and include visible light, microwaves, radio waves and x-rays.

Transverse Waves

Transverse waves refer to mechanical motion through a medium, with their particles vibrating up and down along its path. An example of such a transverse wave is when one end of a rope is jerked, setting its particles into motion towards its fixed end.

The jerk will cause the particles of the rope to move in a pulse (one at a time), and when that pulse is complete they will continue moving towards their fixed end. You may notice ripples along the rope as these pulses occur.

These ripples will continue to travel back and forth, creating crests and troughs. This occurs because the particles of the medium move in different directions as they are pulled by the energy of a jerk, creating empty space around each particle that pulls them from their usual positions.

This creates a crest or trough in the middle of the wave. Gravitational forces then propel it over this crest or trough.

In addition to altering the direction of waves, compressions and rarefactions also cause changes in their size and amplitude. From millimeter-sized waves up to over 1,720 feet high, ocean waves can range in height from millimeters.