Doppler Effect

in Physics

When sound is coming from a moving object, the object’s forward motion adds to the frequency as sensed from the front and takes away from the frequency as sensed from the rear. This change in frequency is known as the Doppler effect, and it explains why the sound from an airplane seems different as it approaches compared to how it sounds as it flies overhead. As it approaches, it becomes both louder and higher pitched. As it flies away, the loudness and pitch both decrease noticeably.

If an airplane is flying at or higher than the speed of sound, the sound energy cannot travel out ahead of the airplane, because the airplane catches up to it the instant it tries to leave. The sound energy being created by the airplane piles up, and attaches itself to the structure of the airplane. As the airplane approaches, a person standing on the ground will not be able to hear it until it gets past their position, because the sound energy is actually trailing behind the airplane. When the sound of the airplane is heard, it will be in the form of what is called a sonic boom.


All types of matter, regardless of whether it is a solid, liquid, or gas, have a natural frequency at which the atoms within that matter vibrate. If two pieces of matter have the same natural frequency, and one of them starts to vibrate, it can transfer its wave energy to the other one and cause it to vibrate. This transfer of energy is known as resonance. Some piston engine powered airplanes have an rpm range that they are placarded to avoid, because spinning the prop at that rpm can cause vibration problems. The difficulty lies in the natural frequency of the metal in the prop, and the frequency of vibration that will be set up with a particular tip speed for the prop. At that particular rpm, stresses can be set up that could lead to the propeller coming apart.