The air is hot and sticky, and the clouds are low. A bolt of lightning opens the sky. The boom is followed by four seconds.
Sound waves move through air at a slower rate than light, moving through air at a rate of 0.2 miles per second. You see lightning before the thunder. What would happen if the sound suddenly became a million times faster than the light?
thunder would hit you at the right time. The bolt of lightning would look pretty strange. Sound waves are composed of particles. George Gollin is a professor of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Think of a slinky, as the toy moves, the coils continually bunch together and then spread out again. Sound waves are similar. The change in density is not noticeable at slow speeds. It's not the same at the speed of light.
What would happen if the light speed was reduced?
Gollin told Live Science that a sound wave coming through during a lightning storm would cause a drop in pressure. After a clap of thunder, the humid air would freeze because of the sudden drop in air pressure. You could see the lightning bolt through the fog.
Our world would sound different if there was an ultra-fast speed of sound. The voices would be so high-pitched that they would be hard to hear. William Robertson, a professor in the department of physics and astronomy at Middle Tennessee State University, said that his dog couldn't hear him.
Standing waves are generated by our vocal cords and behave like the heavy ropes you see at the gym. Waves don't travel across the rope when a weight-lifter shakes them fast. The number of waves increases as the ropes are shaken faster. The sound waves produced by our voice box increase in speed.
Higher frequencies mean higher pitches. It's fun to know that sound moves three times faster through pure helium than it does through air, and that's why inhaling the gas makes us sound like Mickey Mouse. Robertson said that they were talking about making the speed of sound a million times bigger.
Robertson said that the effect would wreak havoc on the orchestra. Wind instruments act like human vocal cords, with sound moving back and forth inside a trumpet or oboe, which produces a standing wave. He said that it would take a million times longer to design wind instruments to keep them in tune with the violins and cellos. He said that a change in the speed of sound wouldn't affect the speed of sound along a string.
Humans wouldn't survive to see these changes. The soft whistle of a flute would blow anything in its vicinity to smithereens. Light and sound waves are mechanical and composed of particles colliding into one another. Gollin said that a molecule traveling at the speed of light has "nearly infinite energy". It would blast through every particle it encountered, sending electrons flying and producing a "spray" of matter and antimatter, which have properties different to those of matter.
The effects would be extraordinary.
Live Science published the original article.