During a chat with a science column writer about his recent article on music from the sun, we had a bit of a difference of opinion on what lay-folks know about sound and light that could contribute to readers misunderstanding a few points in his article. (He didn’t have any false info in the article, just some things that could be misleading if the reader didn’t understand the jargon or the physics behind it.)
I decided to do an informal poll to see if folks could pick fact from fiction. There were eight statements total in the poll, with instructions to choose all the ones that were false. One of the statements was an option for all of the other statements to be true.
Following are the results. Just over 40 people took the poll. The statements are ordered such that the ones that got the most marks (as being false) are at the top, followed by those that got less marks, meaning that folks thought those statements were true.
Sound is a lower frequency of light. 20%
Sound can be heard in space. 20%
Sound from celestial bodies can be recorded directly from orbit. 13.33%
Sound and light travel equally far, just at different speeds. 13.33%
All statements are true. 13.33%
Sound and light waves are the same type. 6.67%
Sound and light waves are measured along the same continuum. 6.67%
All statements are false. 6.67%
The correct answer is: “All statements are false.”
To give a little more room for error, I used a few statements that could have been interpreted as meaning the same thing. Basically, I was trying to discover how many folks thought sound and light were the same thing and measured along the same continuum since both are referenced by words like frequency, waves, and wavelength.
The way I interpret the percentages in the poll is that most folks know that sound is not a lower frequency of light. But most folks don’t know that sound and light waves are actually two different types of waves and are not measured along the same continuum.
The other set of responses I found intriguing were the two about sound in space. Most folks recognized that sound could not be heard in space, but not as many recognized that sound could not be recorded from orbit. Being in orbit is being in space, so both statements are false.
Sound is the result of a disturbance in a medium, such as air; hence, it has a finite limit of travel due to the resistance of the medium, which will eventually absorb and diffuse it. Light, on the other hand, is a self-propagating wave and can travel for infinity, given the opportunity, such as it does in space. That’s not to say that light cannot be absorbed, it’s just to point out why light and sound cannot travel equally as far, and so that statement is false.
Feel free to leave comments here on the blog about how you read the statements and why you chose as you did.