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7 Real Life Examples of transverse waves

January 16, 2024
written by Adeel abbas

In a transverse wave, the energy causes the medium—whether it’s water, air, or even the Earth—to move up and down or side to side, perpendicular to the direction the wave is traveling.

Imagine a crowded stadium where fans do “the wave,” standing up and sitting down. Each person moves up and then down, but the wave itself travels around the stadium. That’s a perfect real-life model of a transverse wave.

featured image of Examples of transverse waves

Everyday Examples of Transverse Waves

1. Light Waves

When we see colors, we’re actually seeing light waves. Light is an electromagnetic wave, and the oscillations are the electric and magnetic fields varying in a direction perpendicular to the way the light travels. This is what makes light a classic example of a transverse wave.

image showing LightWave as an example of transverse waves

2. Ripples in a Pond

If you’ve ever tossed a stone into a still pond, you’ve created ripples. Those ripples are transverse waves because the water moves up and down as the wave moves outward from where the stone entered the water.

image showing Ripples in Water Pond as an example of transverse waves

3. Plucking a Guitar String

 When a musician plucks a string, it vibrates. Each vibration is a transverse wave that moves along the string. It’s the rapid back-and-forth motion that creates the sound you hear.

image showing Plucking a Guitar String as an example of transverse waves

4. Seismic S Waves

During an earthquake, different types of waves are produced, and one type is the S wave, or secondary wave. It moves the ground up and down or side to side, perpendicularly to the wave’s direction, and is a prime example of transverse waves in geology.

image showing Earthquake  (Seismic S wave) as an example of transverse waves

5. Tsunami Waves

In the deep ocean, tsunami waves can be hundreds of kilometers long, but you wouldn’t notice them because the motion is mostly horizontal. As they approach land and the sea shallows, the motion becomes more vertical, making them dangerous transverse waves.

image showing Tsunami Waves as an example of transverse waves

6. X-Rays

 Just like visible light, X-rays are electromagnetic waves. They can pass through some materials, making them useful for looking inside things, such as your body at the doctor’s office.

image showing X-Rays as an example of transverse waves

7. Oscillating Rope

If you’ve ever played with a jump rope or seen someone doing rope tricks, the loops and patterns created are transverse waves. The rope moves up and down while the wave shape travels along the length of the rope.

image showing  Oscillating String as an example of transverse waves
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