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Does Gravity Cause Waves?

  1. May 6, 2012 #1
    When you move your hand with a slinky in it, the slinky begins to move because you gave energy from your hand to the slinky. A wave is not always formed, but when the disturbance from your hand is rhythmic, a wave will form. Is this right so far?

    A force acted on the slinky and caused a disturbance. Gravity is a force that acts on all objects with mass including air molecules. Therefore why does gravity not create a disturbance on air molecules and cause sound or movement as in a wave?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 6, 2012 #2
    Yeah, gravitational fields do create gravitational waves. They're just not very detectible since gravitational forces are so weak compared to anything else; especially if you're comparing the gravitational force of a binary star system hundreds of light years away to the electrostatic interactions between two molecules.

    It is possible to detect gravitational waves though;
  4. May 6, 2012 #3
    Hey thanks for the response! Im really interested in what you are saying but I think what I am trying to get at is that if a force as small as that coming from my hand can move a spring then can a force like gravity (which I know is not very strong though) cause wave motion between air molecules in Earths atmosphere for example?
  5. May 6, 2012 #4
    Well the problem is that the force due to gravity on the air molecules is constant, while the force that you're applying to the slinky is changing. To have a wave you need a restoring force and some other force. For example, a bouncy ball will create a "wave" of sorts.

    But in the case of air molecules just chillin' in the atmosphere, there's nothing to really make them "wave" at all.
  6. May 6, 2012 #5
    Thanks! That helps a lot to understand that you need a restoring force to create waves because I was always kinda confused on how waves were actually formed beyond just giving a medium energy or a disturbance.

    Is this restoring force of gravity in water waves or tension and gravity in guitar strings what causes waves to oscillate in curves which can be represented by a sinusoidal function?
  7. May 6, 2012 #6


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  8. May 6, 2012 #7
    okay this is all making sense but when I send a single wave pulse (such as a crest) through a rope for example, why does gravity as a restoring force not push this pulse down to the equilibrium position to the trough and then pull it back up to form a crest?

    When we did experiments with a rope or slinky in physics and sent a single pulse, the pulse would remain a crest (or trough) the entire lenght of the rope. Why does gravity not act as a restoring force here?
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