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Wavelength Definition

In physics, the wavelength is the spatial period of a periodic wave. In other terms the distance over which the wave's shape repeats. It is the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase on the wave, such as two adjacent crests, troughs, or zero crossings, and is a characteristic of both traveling waves and standing waves, as well as other spatial wave patterns. The inverse of the wavelength is called the spatial frequency. Wavelength is commonly designated by the Greek letter Lambda (Λ, λ). The term wavelength is also sometimes applied to modulated waves, and to the sinusoidal envelopes of modulated waves or waves formed by interference of several sinusoids.

Assuming a sinusoidal wave moving at a fixed wave speed, wavelength is inversely proportional to frequency of the wave. This means waves with higher frequencies have shorter wavelengths, and lower frequencies have longer wavelengths.

Wavelength depends on the medium (for example, vacuum, air, or water) that a wave travels through. Examples of waves are sound waves, light, water waves and periodic electrical signals in a conductor. A sound wave is a variation in air pressure, while in light and other electromagnetic radiation the strength of the electric and the magnetic field vary. Water waves are variations in the height of a body of water. In a crystal lattice vibration, atomic positions vary.

The range of wavelengths or frequencies for wave phenomena is called a spectrum. The name originated with the visible light spectrum but now can be applied to the entire electromagnetic spectrum as well as to a sound spectrum or vibration spectrum.

Related Definitions

Sources

“Wavelength.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wavelength.

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