In physics a wave is a disturbance or oscillation that travels through spacetime, accompanied by a transfer of energy. Wave motion transfers energy from one point to another, often with no permanent displacement of the particles of the medium—that is, with little or no associated mass transport. They consist, instead, of oscillations or vibrations around almost fixed locations. Waves are described by a wave equation which sets out how the disturbance proceeds over time. The mathematical form of this equation varies depending on the type of wave.
There are two main types of waves. Mechanical waves propagate through a medium, and the substance of this medium is deformed. The deformation reverses itself owing to restoring forces resulting from its deformation. For example, sound waves propagate via air molecules colliding with their neighbors. When air molecules collide, they also bounce away from each other (a restoring force). This keeps the molecules from continuing to travel in the direction of the wave.
The second main type of wave, electromagnetic waves, do not require a medium. Instead, they consist of periodic oscillations in electrical and magnetic fields generated by charged particles, and can therefore travel through a vacuum. These types of waves vary in wavelength, and include radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, visible light, ultraviolet radiation, X-rays, and gamma rays.
Further, the behavior of particles in quantum mechanics is described by waves and researchers believe that gravitational waves also travel through space, although gravitational waves have never been directly detected.
A wave can be transverse or longitudinal depending on the direction of its oscillation. Transverse waves occur when a disturbance creates oscillations perpendicular (at right angles) to the propagation (the direction of energy transfer). Longitudinal waves occur when the oscillations are parallel to the direction of propagation. While mechanical waves can be both transverse and longitudinal, all electromagnetic waves are transverse.
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