Friday, November 18, 2005

Can sound travel faster than light ?

Can sound waves travel faster than the speed of light? Yes, says Joel Mobley, a physicist at the University of Mississippi in the US. In simulations Mobley has shown that ultrasound pulses could move at "superluminal" speeds when they enter water that contains thousands of tiny plastic beads.

Waves moving in a dispersive medium are described by a phase velocity and a group velocity. The phase velocity is the speed at which a wave of a single wavelength moves, and is typically about 1.5 kilometres per second for sound waves in water. However, pulses of light or sound actually contain a range of wavelengths that all move at different speeds: the group velocity is the speed at which the pulse itself moves.

In recent years, it has been shown experimentally that the group velocity of a laser pulse can exceed the speed of light in vacuum -- 300,000,000 metres per second -- in certain situations. However, special relativity is not violated in these experiments because they do not involve the transfer of information, matter or energy.

Read the full article.