Physics

Difference between mechanical waves and electromagnetic waves

For physicists, the different waves and their characteristics might be very clear, but for others, the difference between mechanical and electromagnetic waves may not be so easy to grasp. However, the two types of waves vary in several ways even though they both spread the energy around us. The main difference between mechanical waves and electromagnetic waves is that mechanical waves require a medium (air or water) for their propagation, while electromagnetic waves do not require a medium for their propagation (they can travel through space).

The difference between mechanical and electromagnetic waves is that mechanical waves cannot travel without a medium, while electromagnetic waves can travel through a vacuum with the help of any medium.

Another big difference between the two is that the distance traveled by mechanical waves depends on the elasticity of the medium it uses, while the characteristics of an electromagnetic wave depend on the electric and magnetic fields that act.

These two types of waves also vary in their speed. A mechanical wave travels much slower than an electrical wave that travels as fast as light. An example of a mechanical wave is a sound wave, while a microwave and a radio wave are examples of electromagnetic waves.

Key differences

  • Mechanical waves generally propagate through a substance, while electromagnetic waves do not need to propagate through a medium.
  • The main difference between mechanical and electromagnetic waves is that mechanical waves cannot travel without a medium, while electromagnetic waves can travel through a vacuum with the help of any medium.
  • Another big difference between the two is that the distance traveled by mechanical waves depends on the elasticity of the medium it uses, while the characteristics of an electromagnetic wave depend on the electric and magnetic fields that act.
  • Mechanical waves are not produced by the frequency of the waves, but by the amplitude of the waves; on the other hand, when a vibration occurs in the charged particles, electromagnetic waves are formed.
  • Mechanical waves are generally considered as a periodic disturbance; on the contrary, electromagnetic waves are known simply as a disturbance.
  • Mechanical waves are only created by vibration or a disturbance in a medium such as plasma, liquid, solid, and gas, while electromagnetic waves are the most vital energy in the universe for propagation because they are created by electromagnetic energy.
  • A mechanical wave travels much slower than an electromagnetic wave that travels as fast as light whose primary constituents are photons.
  • The elastic properties of the source are used to determine the speed of mechanical waves; on the other hand, the speed of electromagnetic waves is inversely proportional to the refractive index of the source.
  • An example of a mechanical wave is a sound wave, while a microwave, a radio wave, infrared, ultraviolet rays, X-rays, visible light, and gamma rays are examples of electromagnetic waves.
  • Mechanical waves propagate more slowly with a speed of sound in air of 332 m / s; on the other hand, electromagnetic waves generally move significantly faster than mechanical waves with the speed of light in a vacuum of 3 x 10 8 m / s.
  • Both the longitudinal waves and the transverse waves could be the mechanical wave types, but an electromagnetic wave could only be a transverse wave.
  • Mechanical waves are waves that are the result of oscillating matter and its movement is what carries the wave forward, while electromagnetic waves are the result of the acceleration of electrically charged particles.
  • Due to the vibrations of the particles in the medium, it will also lead to the formation of mechanical waves; on the other hand, the fluctuation present in electric and magnetic fields results in the production of electromagnetic waves.
  • Magnetic fields usually contain a long wavelength and a low frequency; on the contrary, electromagnetic waves contain low wavelength and high frequency.
  • An example of mechanical waves is that when a stone is thrown in the middle of the pool, the waves that form in a pool of water will generate mechanical waves; On the other hand, examples of electromagnetic waves are radio signals and light.

Difference between mechanical waves and electromagnetic waves – Comparative chart

Mechanical wavesElectromagnetic waves
DefinitionA mechanical wave is considered a type of wave that is a ripple of substance and therefore transmits energy through a source.Electromagnetic waves are waves that do not require a medium for their propagation and can travel through space.
Created byCreated by a disturbance or vibration in a medium such as in matter such as plasma, liquid, solid, and gasCreated by something like electromagnetic energy
Medium requirementRequires a medium for propagationIt does not require a medium for propagation.
Wave speedGenerally determined by the elastic properties of the source.Generally inversely proportional to the refractive index of the source
Cause of formationGenerally formed by wave amplitude and not caused by wave frequencyFormed by the vibration of charged particles
Speed ​​rateMove slower than electromagnetic waves with a speed of sound in air of 332 m / sIt travels considerably faster than mechanical waves with the speed of light in vacuum being 3 x 10 8 m / s.
Deliberate asDeliberate as a periodic disturbanceKnown only as a charged particle disturbance
Types of wavesBoth longitudinal and transverse wavesA transverse wave
Produced due toProduced by vibrations of the particles in the mediumProduced by fluctuating electric and magnetic fields
Consists inIt generally has a low frequency and a long wavelength.Generally, it has a high frequency and a low wavelength.
ExamplesThe ripples that form in a puddle of water when a stone is thrown into the puddle, Sound waves, surface wavesRadio and light signals, Microwaves, radio waves, etc.

Mechanical waves vs. electromagnetic waves

Mechanical waves must travel through a medium, while electromagnetic waves do not need to travel through a medium. Mechanical waves are generally not made of anything because they are created by a disturbance or vibration in a medium such as in matter like plasma, liquid, solid and gas, while electromagnetic waves are created by something like electromagnetic energy and it is the most important energy. . in the universe for propagation. Mechanical waves are generally formed by wave amplitude and not caused by wave frequency; on the other hand, electromagnetic waves are formed by the vibration of charged particles.

Mechanical waves are generally considered as a periodic disturbance; on the contrary, electromagnetic waves are known simply as a disturbance of electrical charges. Example of mechanical waves are the waves that are formed in a pool of water when a stone is thrown in the middle of the pool; On the other hand, examples of electromagnetic waves are radio signals and light. Speed ​​of mechanical waves generally determined by the elastic properties of the source; on the other hand, the speed of electromagnetic waves is generally inversely proportional to the refractive index of the source.

Mechanical waves move more slowly than electromagnetic waves with a speed of sound in air of 332 m / s; on the other hand, electromagnetic waves generally travel considerably faster than mechanical waves with the speed of light in vacuum being 3 x 10 8 m / s. The types of mechanical waves can be both longitudinal waves and transverse waves, but an electromagnetic wave can only be a transverse wave. Mechanical waves are produced due to the vibrations of the particles in the medium; on the other hand, electromagnetic waves are produced by fluctuating electric and magnetic fields. Magnetic fields tend to have a low frequency and a long wavelength; on the contrary, electromagnetic waves generally have a high frequency and a low wavelength.

What are mechanical waves?

The waves that must need a medium to propagate are known as mechanical waves. However, it is not necessary for the medium to be a gas or a liquid medium because mechanical waves could also be transmitted through solids. Mechanical waves such as sound create compression when they propagate from a medium, through a liquid, solid, gaseous or plasma medium, disturbing the molecules of substances. For example, when sound waves passing through the air cause the air molecules to move, they cause vibration and collision with other air molecules at a particular frequency when the wave propagates through the medium.

The air molecules return to their original place; and for every force, there is the formation of an equal and opposite force in the middle. As a result, the molecules vibrate back and forth analogous to the source. Wave propagation is generally true for gases and liquids, but generally not for a thicker substance. The types of mechanical waves can be both longitudinal and transverse.

The transverse and longitudinal waves generally in surface waves are mixed in a single medium. Mechanical waves usually do the transport of energy. This transported energy travels in the direction equivalent to that of the wave. Any wave, whether mechanical or electromagnetic, consists of a definite energy.

Mechanical waves can only be formed in media that contain inertia and elasticity. A mechanical wave usually involves a contribution of primary energy. Once this primary energy is added in the propagation of the wave, the wave travels through the medium until all the energy in the wave travels. An example of mechanical waves is that mechanical waves can be seen in the ripples that form in a pool of water when a stone is thrown into the middle of the pool.

According to the definitions, mechanical waves are waves that are the result of oscillating matter and its movement is what carries the wave forward. This also means that mechanical waves always require a medium to travel and cannot travel in a vacuum.

Therefore, a mechanical wave can house a speed that is limited to the speed of the medium and can only move in the direction that the medium is carrying it. This type of wave also requires an initial amount of energy to start the movement.

A mechanical wave can be of three types: longitudinal, transverse and superficial waves. A longitudinal wave is formed when the particles of the medium oscillate in parallel to the direction of advance of the wave.

A transverse wave is formed when the wave particles vibrate perpendicular to the direction of motion, while a surface wave is formed when the waves move at the interface of two media. An example of a surface wave is the waves in a body of water.

Types

  • Transverse waves: the wave moves at right angles to the middle direction, like light.
  • Longitudinal waves: the wave moves equivalently to the middle direction, for example, sound.
  • Surface waves : surface waves propagate laterally towards the outside of the medium or between the two mediums, for example, the surface waves present in an ocean, a swimming pool, a lake or any other type of body of water.

What are electromagnetic waves?

The wave that does not require a medium for its propagation and oscillation between media is known as electromagnetic waves. Electromagnetic waves can be light waves, but they usually don’t just consist of visible light that we can see. Electromagnetic waves generally transmit energy moving forward but never use a medium for their propagation, so light can easily reach Earth from the middle Sun.

If electromagnetic waves were somehow mechanical, there would possibly be no heat, light, or life on Earth. Electromagnetic waves are created by something like electromagnetic energy, and it is the most important energy in the universe for propagation. Several examples of electromagnetic waves are radio and light signals.

Electromagnetic waves are the result of the acceleration of electrically charged particles that internally affect other particles around them. In an electromagnetic field, no particle oscillates, but the photons propagate and create a wave. Electromagnetic fields are based on Maxwell’s four laws.

An electromagnetic field is the result of changing electric and magnetic fields whose direction points 90 degrees to each other. The directions of these fields are also perpendicular to the direction of propagation of the energy and the wave.

Since electromagnetic radiation does not consist of particles and only oscillating electric and magnetic fields, they do not need any medium to propagate. Therefore, they can travel through the void. The speed of an electromagnetic wave is as fast as the speed of light. Electromagnetic waves are governed by the laws of quantum electrodynamics.

In other words, electromagnetic waves are made up of photons, which are uncharged particles that can travel at the speed of light. These waves spread energy, momentum, and angular momentum away from the source.

As these photons move away from their main source, it no longer requires a continuous supply of energy to keep it moving and thus creates what is called a far field. The field surrounding the parent charge that created the wave in the first place is called the near field.

Types

  • Radio waves: instant communication
  • Microwave: data and heat
  • Infrared waves: invisible heat
  • Visible light: rays
  • Ultraviolet waves: energetic light
  • X-rays : penetrating radiation
  • Gamma rays: nuclear energy

Conclution

The above discussion concludes that mechanical waves are generally formed by wave amplitude and are not caused by wave frequency and generally require a medium for their propagation; on the other hand, electromagnetic waves are formed by the vibration of charged particles and do not require a medium for their propagation.

Both mechanical and electromagnetic waves are a source of energy propagation from one place to another. Among the various types of waves in physics, these two are the most common and discussed.

The main difference between mechanical and electromagnetic waves is that mechanical waves cannot travel without a medium and can host a speed limited to the speed of the medium, while electromagnetic waves can travel through a vacuum with the help of any medium and they can travel at the speed of light.

Mechanical waves are waves that are the result of oscillating matter and this type of wave also requires an initial amount of energy to initiate movement, while electromagnetic waves are the result of the acceleration of electrically charged particles that internally affect others. particles around it.

A mechanical wave can be of three types, longitudinal, transverse and surface waves, while an electromagnetic wave can only be a transverse wave. An example of a mechanical wave is the waves in a body of water, while those of an electromagnetic wave are microwaves, radio waves, and ultraviolet rays.

The distance traveled by mechanical waves depends on the elasticity and inertia of the medium it uses, while the characteristics of an electromagnetic wave depend on the action of electric and magnetic fields. A mechanical wave only propagates energy within the particles, while an electromagnetic field propagates energy, momentum, and angular momentum.

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