Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 3.djvu/13

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3
WAVE-ACTION IN NATURE.

Now, in order that all these multifarious and diversified tremblings of natural objects may be brought into relation with animate creatures a common medium of communication is necessary. The air around us is such a medium. It possesses the marvellous power of taking up

Fig. 2.
PSM V03 D013 Tube fractured by vibration.jpg
Tube fractured by Vibration.

the numberless and ever-varying thrills of material objects, and conveying them through space with all their peculiarities. The sensitiveness of the air (if we may so speak) to the faintest tremors in material objects, and its power of transmitting their individual qualities, are most wonderful. It drinks up the infinitesimal motions of things, and diffuses them swiftly, simultaneously, and in countless myriads in all directions around.

That air is the medium of sound is proved by the fact that, when vibrations occur in space void of air, the silence is not broken. If a bell suspended by a string in a vacuum be struck, nothing is heard, although, if it is in contact with the jar, the vibrations are communicated to the outer air, and sounds produced. That air transmits the kind of motion that it receives is also proved by the fact that it will take up vibrations at one point and communicate them to a distant object that is capable of vibrating in the same way.

The velocity of impulses in the air which produce sound has been well established, and all kinds of shocks—the firing of a gun, notes of a musical instrument, or the voice, whether high or low, harsh or soft all move at the same rate. The velocity is not affected by changes in atmospheric pressure or moisture, or by rain or snow, but it is affected by wind and by temperature. The speed of sound is 1,090 feet per second at the freezing-point, and increases about one foot per second for each degree of ascent on the Fahrenheit scale. It, therefore, takes longer to hear in winter than in summer. In many parts of the country the change of temperature is so great that the velocity of sound will vary more than 100 feet a second in the different seasons. Sound moves in air with about the speed of a cannon-ball, and at a rate ten times greater than the swiftest motion of air in a hurricane. The sound produced in the open air tends to move in all directions with equal speed, but this tendency may be disturbed by various conditions. If the whole mass of air is moving in one direction, sound will travel faster with it than against it. In still air the sound of a musket-shot will be heard farthest in the direction of the impulse. Experiments have shown that a person speaking in the open air can be