- Suppose that a slinky is stretched out in a horizontal direction across the classroom and that a pulse is introduced into the slinky on the left end by vibrating the first coil left and right. Energy will begin to be transported through the slinky from left to right. As the energy is transported from left to right, the individual coils of the medium will be displaced leftwards and rightwards. In this case, the particles of the medium move parallel to the direction that the pulse moves. This type of wave is a longitudinal wave.
- Longitudinal waves are always characterized by particle motion being parallel to wave motion.
- A sound wave traveling through air is a classic example of a longitudinal wave. As a sound wave moves from the lips of a speaker to the ear of a listener, particles of air vibrate back and forth in the same direction and the opposite direction of energy transport. Each individual particle pushes on its neighboring particle so as to push it forward. The collision of particle #1 with its neighbor serves to restore particle #1 to its original position and displace particle #2 in a forward direction. This back and forth motion of particles in the direction of energy transport creates regions within the medium where the particles are pressed together and other regions where the particles are spread apart.
- Longitudinal waves can always be quickly identified by the presence of such regions. This process continues along the chain of particles until the sound wave reaches the ear of the listener.
- Waves traveling through a solid medium can be either transverse waves or longitudinal waves.
- Yet waves traveling through the bulk of a fluid (such as a liquid or a gas) are always longitudinal waves.
- Transverse waves require a relatively rigid medium in order to transmit their energy. As one particle begins to move it must be able to exert a pull on its nearest neighbor. If the medium is not rigid as is the case with fluids, the particles will slide past each other. This sliding action that is characteristic of liquids and gases prevents one particle from displacing its neighbor in a direction perpendicular to the energy transport. It is for this reason that only longitudinal waves are observed moving through the bulk of liquids such as our oceans. Earthquakes are capable of producing both transverse and longitudinal waves that travel through the solid structures of the Earth. When seismologists began to study earthquake waves they noticed that only longitudinal waves were capable of traveling through the core of the Earth. For this reason, geologists believe that the Earth's core consists of a liquid - most likely molten iron.
- In longitudinal and transverse waves, all the particles in the entire bulk of the medium move in a parallel and a perpendicular direction (respectively) relative to the direction of energy transport. In a surface wave, it is only the particles at the surface of the medium that undergo the circular motion. The motion of particles tends to decrease as one proceeds further from the surface.
a. east to west only
a. particles of the medium move perpendicular to the direction of energy transport.
a. The particles vibrate horizontally along the direction of the rod.
a. They consist of disturbances or oscillations of a medium.