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compression wave

wave consisting of a periodic disturbance or vibration that takes place in the same direction as the advance of the wave. A coiled spring that is compressed at one end and then released experiences a wave of compression that travels its length, followed by a stretching; a point on any coil of the spring will move with the wave and return along the same path, passing through the neutral position and then reversing its motion again. Sound moving through air also compresses and rarefies the gas in the direction of travel of the sound wave as they vibrate back and forth. The P (primary) seismic waves are also longitudinal. In a longitudinal wave, each particle of matter vibrates about its normal rest position and along the axis of propagation, and all particles participating in the wave motion behave in the same manner, except that there is a progressive change in phase (q.v.) of vibration-i.e., each particle completes its cycle of reaction at a later time. The combined motions result in the advance of alternating regions of compression and rarefaction in the direction of propagation

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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