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Mechanical disturbance that propagates as a longitudinal wave through a solid, liquid, or gas. A sound wave is generated by a vibrating object. The vibrations cause alternating compressions (regions of crowding) and rarefactions (regions of scarcity) in the particles of the medium. The particles move back and forth in the direction of propagation of the wave. The speed of sound through a medium depends on the medium's elasticity, density, and temperature. In dry air at 32 °F (0 °C), the speed of sound is 1,086 feet (331 metres) per second. The frequency of a sound wave, perceived as pitch, is the number of compressions (or rarefactions) that pass a fixed point per unit time. The frequencies audible to the human ear range from approximately 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz. Intensity is the average flow of energy per unit time through a given area of the medium and is related to loudness. See alsoacoustics; ear; hearing; ultrasonics.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on sound, visit Britannica.com.