Mechanical and Electromagnetic

Difference Between Mechanical and Electromagnetic Waves

Have you ever wondered how we can hear each other or how we receive text messages and calls so quickly? The answer is seemingly simple – waves. But what are waves exactly? And difference between Mechanical and Electromagnetic? A wave by definition is a disturbance or a phenomenon that transports energy from one area to another without any direct contact between them. In simpler words, things like sound, light and heat are all waves.

We can categorize waves into two different groups, one is mechanical and the other is electromagnm. The reason why we havetic. Some waves require a substance that can carry the energy from point A to point B and that substance is called a mediue to make a clear distinction between these two groups of waves is the requirement of a medium or the lack of it. So without further ado, simply tune in with us on a wave of physics and expand your knowledge.

Mechanical Waves

To make things easier, first, we are going to pay attention to the different types of waves individually.

Mechanical waves are waves that require a medium, also known as matter, in order to propagate. This wave is created when a molecule of the medium starts to move, forcing the other molecules to move as well.  

There are two types of mechanical waves:

  • Longitudinal waves: The particles vibrate parallelly to the direction in which the waves are carrying energy.
  • Transverse waves: The waves carry energy from left to right and the particles vibrate at 90° to the destination of the energy. 

To explain mechanical waves with an example, imagine that you are throwing a rock into a big puddle of water. When thrown, the rock has gravitational potential and as the rock falls the energy becomes kinetic. Upon impact with the water, the rock causes the molecules of the water to cause waves in all directions. The medium here is not the rock but the water. Through the waves of the water, energy is propagated in all directions.

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Electromagnetic Waves

Electromagnetic waves are waves that create electromagnetic radiation through oscillation. These waves contain an electric field and a magnetic one. When vibrations between these two fields happen, waves are created, hence the name of the waves.

It’s important to add that these waves can travel through everything including the vacuum of space and don’t require a medium. The speed at which they travel a vacuum is a constant velocity of 2.998 × 108?m/s. 

Being only transverse, the waves are measured by their wavelength. The wave’s highest point is called a “crest”, the lowest is called a “trough”. The electromagnetic waves have different frequencies and that’s where the frequency spectrum comes into play to split them by range

We constantly benefit from EM waves and the immeasurable potential that they have on a daily basis. One example of an electromagnetic wave is the way our telephones work. The microwaves, which are EM waves, are used for satellite communication. These waves travel with ease through the atmosphere due to their high frequency and high energy providing us information almost instantly, making broadcasts, data and telecommunications possible. 

Other examples of electromagnetic waves are x-rays, radars, and gamma rays, just to name a few.

Key differences between Mechanical and Electromagnetic Waves

As mentioned above, the first distinction between these two types of waves is the medium. Mechanical waves can travel only through a medium, while EM waves don’t require a medium and their range is far superior. The electromagnetic waves can travel through space and at the speed of light, while mechanical waves, on the other hand, can’t travel in space. That is precisely why sound is not possible in space. In addition to that, mechanical waves can only travel with the speed of the medium.

To sum it all up:

  • The ripple in a puddle created by an impact is a simple example of a mechanical wave (transverse). Examples of EM waves include telecommunication and x-rays.
  • Mechanical waves can be longitudinal and transverse, EM can only be transverse.
  • In the case of mechanical waves, the medium determines how long and how far the energy is transferred. Electromagnetic waves on the other hand have an infinite electromagnetic spectrum.