PROPAGATION OF SOUND AND LIGHT IN AN IRREGULAR
[Nature, Vol. ci. p. 284, 1918.]
I SUPPOSE that most of those who have listened to (single-engined) aeroplanes in flight must have noticed the highly uneven character of the sound, even at moderate distances. It would seem that the changes are to be attributed to atmospheric irregularities affecting the propagation rather than to variable emission. This may require confirmation; but, in any case, a comparison' of what is to be expected in the analogous propagation of light and sound has a certain interest.
One point of difference should first be noticed. The velocity of propagation of sound through air varies indeed with temperature, but is independent of pressure (or density), while that of light depends upon pressure as well as upon temperature. In the atmosphere there is a variation of pressure with elevation, but this is scarcely material for our present purpose. And the kind of irregular local variations which can easily occur in temperature are excluded in respect of pressure by the mechanical conditions, at least in the absence of strong winds, not here regarded. The question is thus reduced to refractions consequent upon temperature variations.
The velocity of sound is as the square root of the absolute temperature. Accordingly for 1° C. difference of temperature the refractivity (/* — !) is 0'00183. In the case of light the corresponding value of (/A —1) is O000294 x 0*00366, the pressure being atmospheric. The effect of temperature upon sound is thus about 2000 times greater than upon light. If we suppose the system of temperature differences to be altered in this proportion, the course of rays of light and of sound will be the same.
When we consider mirage, and the twinkling of stars, and of terrestrial lights at no very great distances, we recognize how heterogeneous the atmosphere must often be for the propagation of sound, and we need no longer be. surprised at the variations of intensity with which uniformly emitted sounds are received at moderate distances from their source.
35—2. f 25")