Waves types, Parts, and Visuals


Waves? Looking to learn how to surf or practice the universal greeting? Then you're on the wrong page. Here, you are welcome to learn about the type of waves that transports energy. SO... have fun. :)

What is a wave?

Waves describe the way information (energy) is transported. For mechanical waves, this happens by disturbing the "medium" without actually moving the medium. Other waves, light electromagnetic waves, do not require a medium.

medium - the substance through which a mechanical wave travels, like air or water

Types of Waves

There are three types of mechanical waves: transverse, longitudinal, and surface. Each type of wave has motion that can be described differently from the others.

1. Transverse

How does it move?

Transverse waves move up and down or side to side, kind of like a sine wave.

Parts of a Transverse Wave

The parts of a wave apply to all waves, but are easiest to label on a transverse wave:

  • Crest -the highest points on a wave
  • Trough - the lowest points on a wave
  • Equilibrium - the rest position of a wave (center line)
  • Wavelength - the length (m) for one wave cycle
  • Amplitude - how high (m) a wave goes (e.g. equilibrium to the crest)

(and specific to transverse)

  • Transverse displacement - how much (m) the wave moves up and down

2. Longitudinal

How does it move?

Longitudinal waves move back and forth with compression and refraction, similar to the way a worm travels through soil.

This slinky gives a visual representation of how a longitudinal wave travels.

Compression and Rarefaction

  • Compression- area of the wave that is bunched up
  • Rarefactions - area of the wave that is stretched out.

3. Surface

How does it move?

Now, surface waves move in a way that takes a bit more explaining than transverse or longitudinal waves. Surface waves move similarly to transverse waves, going up and down and such, but included in this pattern is a circular motion coming out of these waves then feeding back in. For example, ocean waves slow down near the sand while the surface continues moving quickly. This causes these waves to fold back in on themselves in a circular pattern.

The circular parts of a surface wave are called orbitals.

Made by Kenzie S. (yay)

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