The Speed Of Sound

I got to thinking about the speed of sound this morning and wondered just how they were able to accurately determine what this was, especially without the latest technology that we have today.

This all came about when I went in the bathroom to shower and shave before I went to work, and having shaved I wondered how my razor got it’s name, the Gillette “Mach 3”.

Now I can see that the 3 relates to the number of blades, but I can’t see that this has any effect on the speed of shaving, so why Mach 3 which is 3 times the speed of sound?

Well I quickly gave up on that thought, and while I was in the shower my thoughts around this went deeper, and I wondered just how they were able to determine the speed at which sound travels.

I know that without looking this up that this is somewhere around 700 miles per hour, which is pretty fast in the scheme of things, but just how do you measure it?

I conjured up an image of 2 people standing a mile apart on hill tops, each with a stop watch and one with a gun.  The first fires the gun and at the same time clicks stop on his watch. The second meantime listens for the gun being fired and clicks his watch when he hears it.

Well this is all well and good, except that you can’t rely on either person clicking their watches at exactly the right time, plus of course the speed of light comes into play, because the sight of the first person firing the gun might make the second person click his watch before he actually hears the shot being fired..

Assuming that some way could be found to click the watches at exactly the right time, I guess you could measure the speed of sound, however you would have to adjust the result to allow for the speed of light.

The problem is now that you would have to know the speed of light in order to determine the speed of sound, so a means of actually doing this ends up beyond my realitively unscientific brain, plus of course by the time my thoughts reached this point I had finished showering and so my thoughts then focused on breakfast and what to wear to work.

My best experience of the difference between the speed of sound and the speed of light was when I watched one of the Space Shuttles launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

We watched the launch from Titusville, which is about 12 miles from the launch pad, and as the shuttle launched I was in total awe, not realising that you couldn’t hear anything.

I’m not sure how long it took before you could hear the noise, and feel the vibration too, but it seemed like half a minute at the time, and then there was a tremendous roar and a shockwave coming across the Indian River, which in itself was quite amazing.

Do you ever have deep thoughts about things where the answer is beyond you?  If so, please leave a comment and share.

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