Review key terms and skills for the Doppler effect, including how to interpret wavefront diagrams.
|Wavefront||Imaginary surface that represents points on a disturbance that all vibrate in unison, such as a ripple that forms from throwing a stone into water.|
|Doppler effect||Change in frequency and wavelength of a wave due to relative motion between the wave source and observer.|
Understanding the Doppler effect using wavefront diagrams
Sound waves are longitudinal waves that spread out spherically from their source in all directions, such as from the police car siren in figure 1 below. The distance between two consecutive wavefronts represents the wavelength of the sound wave. The frequency of the wave can be measured by counting the number of wavefronts detected by the observer over a period of time.
For a source and observer with no relative motion, the wavefronts are all centered at the source at all times. Observers on any side will hear the frequency of sound from the source.
When the source and observer are moving relative to each other, the distance between the wave fronts changes depending on where the observer is. For example, if the siren is moving toward the observer on the right, the wave fronts are closer together for observer and further apart for observer (Figure 2).
Keep in mind that the speed of the waves is not changing. The speed depends only on the medium, and the medium isn’t changing. The waves travel at the same speed, but the observed frequency depends on any relative motion between the observer and source.
When the observed frequency changes, so does the wavelength. If the observer and source are moving toward each other, then the frequency increases and the wavelength decreases. In figure 2, observer on the right sees wave fronts more frequently, so the wave front spacing (or wavelength) is also reduced.
If the observer and source are moving away from each other, then the observed frequency decreases and the wavelength increases. In Figure 2, observer on the left sees wave fronts less frequently than when the source was at rest, so the wave front spacing is increased. These observations match the when velocity is constant.
To check your understanding and work toward mastering these concepts, check out the exercises in this tutorial.
Want to join the conversation?
- Why is the doppler effect an "effect" if the frequency and the wavelenght are actually different comparing the waves that are in front of the source and the ones that are left behind?(7 votes)
- I would say that the Doppler effect is the effect the relative velocity of an object has on its generated sound waves' perceived frequency and wavelength, if that makes sense.(2 votes)
- What happens if the source and Observer are both moving?(2 votes)
- The manifestation of Doppler effect will depend on the relative velocities of the source and the observer.(8 votes)
- What if the source of the sound is moving faster or slower (acceleration) relative to the observer?(1 vote)
- Think of an ambulance blaring its siren while you're riding your bike down the street. It is safe to assume that the ambulance is accelerating faster than your riding (if both you and the ambulance are moving toward the same end of the street). The ambulance’s faster acceleration relative to your riding acceleration will cause an increase in the observed frequency because the ambulance will eventually catch up to you (the observer). After all, the wave fronts are still being compressed in front of the ambulance (the source) as it approaches you (the observer).
On the other hand, if you're a criminal (I hope you're not) that is driving faster than the cops after a bank robbery, your observed frequency of the police siren will decrease because you're driving farther away from the source, which is similar to the source driving away from the observer in the above image from the text.
I hope this helps.(6 votes)
- bhgjhb ihbj i hbhj(0 votes)
- Is the frequency that an observer would hear the same everywhere to the direct right of the source? Would it change if the observer was also moving and if so, how?(1 vote)
- Yes, as the observer moves, there is an increase or decrease in the relative velocity that cause an increase or decrease in the perceived frequency(2 votes)
- is it always the case, when we are talking about doppler effects we are mostly reffering to sound only?(1 vote)
- The Doppler effect can occur with a variety of types of waves, including electromagnetic (light) waves.(2 votes)
- The Doppler effect seems to happen when an external observer is moving away from the source that is producing the waves. Our universe is also expanding further and further. Does this mean that since galaxies are becoming more spread-apart from one another, that light waves created by those galaxies are becoming longer the more distant we grow from them? And since red has the longest wavelength of light, would this mean that the waves are getting a redder hue?(1 vote)
- Yes, the light from distant stars and galaxies is shifting towards the red/ lower energy end of the spectrum when those objects appear to be receding away from us. People can use this “redshift” to measure the universe’s expansion and age.(1 vote)
- What is the definition for observer(0 votes)