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What is the Difference between Transverse and Longitudinal Waves?
All waves transfer energy over distance, but they do this through different means. To understand the difference between transverse and longitudinal waves it is best to first understand the ways that we describe waves.
First, we have wave frequency which is the number of waves passing over a point each second and this is measured in hertz. We are most familiar with this concept as producing differing pitches in sound waves.
The period of a wave is the time it takes one wave to pass a given point or the time taken for a full oscillation. Wavelength is a similar concept but it measures the distance covered by a full oscillation. Then we have the amplitude of waves which is the maximum displacement from the central point of the wave or the rest position in metres.
Finally, we have the velocity of waves which is the speed and direction of the waves, this is important for understanding the refraction of electromagnetic radiation.
Now we are ready to look at the difference between transverse and longitudinal waves.
The traditional type of waves which we are all familiar with are transverse waves, these include waves in the ocean and electromagnetic waves as well as seismic S waves. Another useful example is the Mexican wave at a sports stadium. These waves move up and down and the particles move at right angles or perpendicular to the direction of wave travel.
Longitudinal waves are a little bit different and some good examples of these are sound waves, ultrasound waves and seismic P waves. It is easy to see how we are less familiar with these waves as we can’t see them in action!
Longitudinal waves transfer energy but the particles go through a stretching and compressing motion as a spring does. The vibrations are therefore parallel to the wave direction and the areas of high-density are called compressions and the low-density areas are called rarefactions.
If you found this waves quiz interesting consider taking our Electromagnetic Spectrum Quiz or maybe the quiz on Dangers of the Electromagnetic Spectrum. Alternatively, you can reach out and see how we can help you with physics.
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