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Sound is a vibration that travels through an elastic medium as a wave. The speed of sound describes how far this wave travels in a given amount of time. In dry air at 20 °C (68 °F), the speed of sound is 343 meters per second (1,125 ft/s). This equates to 1,236 kilometers per hour (768 mph) or about one mile in five seconds. This figure for air (or any given gas) increases with gas temperature (equations are given below), but is nearly independent of pressure or density for a given gas. For different gases, the speed of sound is dependent on the mean molecular weight of the gas, and to a lesser extent upon the ways in which the molecules of the gas can store heat energy from compression (since sound in gases is a type of compression). Although "the speed of sound" is commonly used to refer specifically to the speed of sound waves in air, the speed of sound can be measured in virtually any substance. Sound travels faster in liquids and nonporous solids than it does in air, traveling about 4.4 times faster in water than in air. Additionally, in solids, there occurs the possibility of two different types of sound waves: one type is associated with compression (the same as usual sound waves in fluids) and the other is associated with shearstresses, which cannot occur in fluids. These two types of waves have different speeds, and (for example in an earthquake) may thus be initiated at the same time but arrive at distant points at appreciably different times. The speed of compressiontype waves in all media is set by the medium's compressibility and density, and the speed of shearwaves in solids is set by the material's rigidity and density. Basic concept
The transmission of sound can be illustrated by using a toy model consisting of an array of balls interconnected by springs. For real material the balls represent molecules and the springs represent the bonds between them. Sound passes through the model by compressing and expanding the springs, transmitting energy to neighboring balls, which transmit energy to their springs, and so on. The speed of sound through the model depends on the stiffness of the springs (stiffer springs transmit energy more quickly). Effects like dispersion and reflection can also be understood using this model. In a real material, the stiffness of the springs is called the elastic modulus, and the mass corresponds to the density. All other things being equal, sound will travel more slowly in denser materials, and faster in stiffer ones. For instance, sound will travel faster in iron than uranium, and faster in hydrogen than nitrogen, due to the lower density of the first material of each set. At the same time, sound will travel faster in solids than in liquids and faster in liquids than in gases, because the internal bonds in a solid are much stronger than the bonds in a liquid, as are the bonds in liquids compared to gases. Some textbooks mistakenly state that the speed of sound increases with increasing density. This is usually illustrated by presenting data for three materials, such as air, water and steel, which also have vastly different compressiblities which more than make up for the density differences. An illustrative example of the two effects is that sound travels only 4.4 times faster in water than air, despite enormous differences in compressiblity of the two media. The reason is that the larger density of water, which works to slow sound in water relative to air, nearly makes up for the compressibility difference in the two media. General formulaIn general, the speed of sound c is given by where
Thus the speed of sound increases with the stiffness (the resistence of an elastic body to deformation by an applied force) of the material, and decreases with the density. For general equations of state, if classical mechanics is used, the speed of sound c is given by where differentiation is taken with respect to adiabatic change. If relativistic effects are important, the speed of sound may be calculated from the relativistic Euler equations. In a nondispersive medium sound speed is independent of sound frequency, so the speeds of energy transport and sound propagation are the same. For audible sounds air is a nondispersive medium. But air does contain a small amount of CO_{2} which is a dispersive medium, and it introduces dispersion to air at ultrasonic frequencies (> 28 kHz). In a dispersive medium sound speed is a function of sound frequency, through the dispersion relation. The spatial and temporal distribution of a propagating disturbance will continually change. Each frequency component propagates at its own phase velocity, while the energy of the disturbance propagates at the group velocity. The same phenomenon occurs with light waves; see optical dispersion for a description. Dependence on the properties of the mediumThe speed of sound is variable and depends on the properties of the substance through of which the wave is traveling. In solids, the speed of longitudinal waves depend on the stiffness to shear stress, and the density of the medium. In fluids, the medium's compressiblity and density are the important factors. In gases, compressibility and density are related, making other compositional effects and properties important, such as temperature and molecular composition. In low molecular weight gases, such as helium, sound propagates faster compared to heavier gases, such as xenon (for monatomic gases the speed of sound is about 68% of the mean speed that molecules move in the gas). For a given ideal gas the sound speed depends only on its temperature. At a constant temperature, the ideal gas pressure has no effect on the speed of sound, because pressure and density (also proportional to pressure) have equal but opposite effects on the speed of sound, and the two contributions cancel out exactly. In a similar way, compression waves in gases depend both on compressibility and density—just as in liquids—but in gases the density contributes to the compressiblity in such a way that some part of each attribute factors out, leaving only a dependence on temperature, molecular weight, and heat capacity (see derivations below). Thus, for a single given gas (where molecular weight does not change) and over a small temperature range (where heat capacity is relatively constant), the speed of sound becomes dependent on only the temperature of the gas. In nonideal gases, such as a van der Waals gas, the proportionality is not exact, and there is a slight dependence of sound velocity on the gas pressure. Humidity has a small, but measurable effect on sound speed (causing it to increase by about 0.1%0.6%), because oxygen and nitrogen molecules of the air are replaced by lighter molecules of water. This is a simple mixing effect. Implications for atmospheric acousticsIn the Earth's atmosphere, the most important factor affecting the speed of sound is the temperature (see Details below). Since temperature and thus the speed of sound normally decrease with increasing altitude, sound is refracted upward, away from listeners on the ground, creating an acoustic shadow at some distance from the source. The decrease of the sound speed with height is referred to as a negative sound speed gradient. However, in the stratosphere, the speed of sound increases with height due to heating within the ozone layer, producing a positive sound speed gradient. Practical formula for dry airThe approximate speed of sound in dry (0% humidity) air, in meters per second (m·s), at temperatures near 0 °C, can be calculated from: where is the temperature in degrees Celsius (°C). This equation is derived from the first two terms of the Taylor expansion of the following more accurate equation: The value of 331.3 m/s, which represents the 0 °C speed, is based on theoretical (and some measured) values of the heat capacity ratio, γ, as well as on the fact that at 1 atm real air is very well described by the ideal gas approximation. Commonly found values for the speed of sound at 0 °C may vary from 331.2 to 331.6 due to the assumptions made when it is calculated. If ideal gas γ is assumed to be 7/5 = 1.4 exactly, the 0 °C speed is calculated (see section below) to be 331.3 m/s, the coefficient used above. This equation is correct to a much wider temperature range, but still depends on the approximation of heat capacity ratio being independent of temperature, and will fail, particularly at higher temperatures. It gives good predictions in relatively dry, cold, low pressure conditions, such as the Earth's stratosphere. A derivation of these equations will be given in the following section. DetailsSpeed in ideal gases and in airFor a gas, K (the bulk modulus in equations above, equivalent to C, the coefficient of stiffness in solids) is approximately given by thus Where:
Using the ideal gas law to replace p with nRT/V, and replacing ρ with nM/V, the equation for an ideal gas becomes: where
This equation applies only when the sound wave is a small perturbation on the ambient condition, and the certain other noted conditions are fulfilled, as noted below. Calculated values for c_{air} have been found to vary slightly from experimentally determined values. Newton famously considered the speed of sound before most of the development of thermodynamics and so incorrectly used isothermal calculations instead of adiabatic. His result was missing the factor of γ but was otherwise correct. Numerical substitution of the above values gives the ideal gas approximation of sound velocity for gases, which is accurate at relatively low gas pressures and densities (for air, this includes standard Earth sealevel conditions). Also, for diatomic gases the use of requires that the gas exist in a temperature range high enough that rotational heat capacity is fully excited (i.e., molecular rotation is fully used as a heat energy "partition" or reservoir); but at the same time the temperature must be low enough that molecular vibrational modes contribute no heat capacity (i.e., insigificant heat goes into vibration, as all vibrational quantum modes above the minimumenergymode, have energies too high to be populated by a significant number of molecules at this temperature). For air, these conditions are fulfilled at room temperature, and also temperatures considerably below room temperature (see tables below). See the section on gases in specific heat capacity for a more complete discussion of this phenomenon. If temperatures in degrees Celsius(°C) are to be used to calculate air speed in the region near 273 kelvins, then Celsius temperature may be used. For dry air, where (theta) is the temperature in degrees Celsius(°C). Making the following numerical substitutions: , where is the molar gas constant, , and using the ideal diatomic gas value of Then: Using the first two terms of the Taylor expansion: The derivation includes the two approximate equations which were given in the introduction. Effects due to wind shearThe speed of sound varies with temperature. Since temperature and sound velocity normally decrease with increasing altitude, sound is refracted upward, away from listeners on the ground, creating an acoustic shadow at some distance from the source. Wind shear of 4 m·s·km can produce refraction equal to a typical temperature lapse rate of 7.5 °C/km. Higher values of wind gradient will refract sound downward toward the surface in the downwind direction, eliminating the acoustic shadow on the downwind side. This will increase the audibility of sounds downwind. This downwind refraction effect occurs because there is a wind gradient; the sound is not being carried along by the wind. For sound propagation, the exponential variation of wind speed with height can be defined as follows: where:
In the 1862 American Civil War Battle of Iuka, an acoustic shadow, believed to have been enhanced by a northeast wind, kept two divisions of Union soldiers out of the battle, because they could not hear the sounds of battle only six miles downwind. TablesIn the standard atmosphere: T_{0} is 273.15 K (= 0 °C = 32 °F), giving a theoretical value of 331.3 m·s (= 1086.9 ft/s = 1193 km·h = 741.1 mph = 644.0 knots). Values ranging from 331.3331.6 may be found in reference literature, however. In fact, assuming an ideal gas, the speed of sound c depends on temperature only, not on the pressure or density (since these change in lockstep for a given temperature and cancel out). Air is almost an ideal gas. The temperature of the air varies with altitude, giving the following variations in the speed of sound using the standard atmosphere  actual conditions may vary.
Given normal atmospheric conditions, the temperature, and thus speed of sound, varies with altitude:
Effect of frequency and gas compositionThe medium in which a sound wave is traveling does not always respond adiabatically, and as a result the speed of sound can vary with frequency. The limitations of the concept of speed of sound due to extreme attenuation are also of concern. The attenuation which exists at sea level for high frequencies applies to successively lower frequencies as atmospheric pressure decreases, or as the mean free path increases. For this reason, the concept of speed of sound (except for frequencies approaching zero) progressively loses its range of applicability at high altitudes.: The molecular composition of the gas contributes both as the mass (M) of the molecules, and their heat capacities, and so both have an influence on speed of sound. In general, at the same molecular mass, monatomic gases have slightly higher sound speeds (over 9% higher) because they have a higher γ (5/3 = 1.66...) than diatomics do (7/5 = 1.4). Thus, at the same molecular mass, the sound speed of a monatomic gas goes up by a factor of = 1.091... This gives the 9 % difference, and would be a typical ratio for sound speeds at room temperature in helium vs. deuterium, each with a molecular weight of 4. Sound travels faster in helium than deuterium because adiabatic compression heats helium more, since the helium molecules can store heat energy from compression only in translation, but not rotation. Thus helium molecules (monatomic molecules) travel faster in a sound wave and transmit sound faster. (Sound generally travels at about 70% of the mean molecular speed in gases). Note that in this example we have assumed that temperature is low enough that heat capacities are not influenced by molecular vibration (see heat capacity). However, vibrational modes simply cause gammas which decrease toward 1, since vibration modes in a polyatomic gas gives the gas additional ways to store heat which do not affect temperature, and thus do not affect molecular velocity and sound velocity. Thus, the effect of higher temperatures and vibrational heat capacity acts to increase the difference between sound speed in monatomic vs. polyatomic molecules, with the speed remaining greater in monatomics. Mach numberMach number, a useful quantity in aerodynamics, is the ratio of an object's speed to the speed of sound in the medium through which it is passing (again, usually air). At altitude, for reasons explained, Mach number is a function of temperature. Aircraft flight instruments, however, operate using pressure differential to compute Mach number; not temperature. The assumption is that a particular pressure represents a particular altitude and, therefore, a standard temperature. Aircraft flight instruments need to operate this way because the impact pressure sensed by a Pitot tube is dependent on altitude as well as speed. Assuming air to be an ideal gas, the formula to compute Mach number in a subsonic compressible flow is derived from Bernoulli's equation for M<1: where
The formula to compute Mach number in a supersonic compressible flow is derived from the Rayleigh Supersonic Pitot equation: where
As can be seen, M appears on both sides of the equation. The easiest method to solve the supersonic M calculation is to enter both the subsonic and supersonic equations into a computer spreadsheet such as Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice.org Calc, or some equivalent program. First determine if M is indeed greater than 1.0 by calculating M from the subsonic equation. If M is greater than 1.0 at that point, then use the value of M from the subsonic equation as the initial condition in the supersonic equation. Then perform a simple iteration of the supersonic equation, each time using the last computed value of M, until M converges to a valueusually in just a few iterations. Experimental methodsA range of different methods exist for the measurement of sound in air. The first man to successfully measure the speed of Sound was William Derham Singleshot timing methodsThe simplest concept is the measurement made using two microphones and a fast recording device such as a digital storage scope. This method uses the following idea. If a sound source and two microphones are arranged in a straight line, with the sound source at one end, then the following can be measured: 1. The distance between the microphones (x), called microphone basis. 2. The time of arrival between the signals (delay) reaching the different microphones (t) Then v = x / t An older method is to create a sound at one end of a field with an object that can be seen to move when it creates the sound. When the observer sees the soundcreating device act they start a stopwatch and when the observer hears the sound they stop their stopwatch. Again using v = x / t you can calculate the speed of sound. A separation of at least 200 m between the two experimental parties is required for good results with this method. Other methodsIn these methods the time measurement has been replaced by a measurement of the inverse of time (frequency). Kundt's tube is an example of an experiment which can be used to measure the speed of sound in a small volume. It has the advantage of being able to measure the speed of sound in any gas. This method uses a powder to make the nodes and antinodes visible to the human eye. This is an example of a compact experimental setup. A tuning fork can be held near the mouth of a long pipe which is dipping into a barrel of water. In this system it is the case that the pipe can be brought to resonance if the length of the air column in the pipe is equal to ({1+2n}λ/4) where n is an integer. As the antinodal point for the pipe at the open end is slightly outside the mouth of the pipe it is best to find two or more points of resonance and then measure half a wavelength between these. Here it is the case that v = fλ Nongaseous mediaSpeed of sound in solidsIn a solid, there is a nonzero stiffness both for volumetric and shear deformations. Hence, it is possible to generate sound waves with different velocities dependent on the deformation mode. Sound waves generating volumetric deformations and shear deformations are called longitudinal waves and shear waves, respectively. The sound velocities of such waves are respectively given by:
Speed of sound in liquidsIn a fluid the only nonzero stiffness is to volumetric deformation (a fluid does not sustain shear forces). Hence the speed of sound in a fluid is given by where
WaterThe speed of sound in water is of interest to anyone using underwater sound as a tool, whether in a laboratory, a lake or the ocean. Examples are sonar, acoustic communication and acoustical oceanography. See Discovery of Sound in the Sea for other examples of the uses of sound in the ocean (by both man and other animals). In fresh water, sound travels at about 1497 m/s at 25 °C. See Technical Guides  Speed of Sound in Pure Water for an online calculator. Seawater
In salt water that is free of air bubbles or suspended sediment, sound travels at about 1560 m/s. The speed of sound in seawater depends on pressure (hence depth), temperature (a change of 1 °C ~ 4 m/s), and salinity (a change of 1‰ ~ 1 m/s), and empirical equations have been derived to accurately calculate sound speed from these variables. Other factors affecting sound speed are minor. For more information see Dushaw et al. A simple empirical equation for the speed of sound in sea water with reasonable accuracy for the world's oceans is due to Mackenzie:
where T, S, and z are temperature in degrees Celsius, salinity in parts per thousand and depth in metres, respectively. The constants a_{1}, a_{2}, ..., a_{9} are:
with check value 1550.744 m/s for T=25 °C, S=35‰, z=1000 m. This equation has a standard error of 0.070 m/s for salinities between 25 and 40 ppt. See Technical Guides  Speed of Sound in SeaWater for an online calculator. Other equations for sound speed in sea water are accurate over a wide range of conditions, but are far more complicated, e.g., that by V. A. Del Grosso and the ChenMilleroLi Equation. Speed in plasmaThe speed of sound in a plasma for the common case that the electrons are hotter than the ions (but not too much hotter) is given by the formula (see here) In contrast to a gas, the pressure and the density are provided by separate species, the pressure by the electrons and the density by the ions. The two are coupled through a fluctuating electric field. GradientsWhen sound spreads out evenly in all directions, the intensity drops in proportion to the inverse square of the distance. However, in the ocean there is a layer called the 'deep sound channel' or SOFAR channel which can confine sound waves at a particular depth, allowing them to travel much further. In the SOFAR channel, the speed of sound is lower than that in the layers above and below. Just as light waves will refract towards a region of higher index, sound waves will refract towards a region where their speed is reduced. The result is that sound gets confined in the layer, much the way light can be confined in a sheet of glass or optical fiber. A similar effect occurs in the atmosphere. Project Mogul successfully used this effect to detect a nuclear explosion at a considerable distance. See alsoExternal links
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Published  July 2009
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