Why is the speed of sound greater in water than in lead?

The speed of sound in a medium is determined by its properties, primarily its density and elasticity. In the case of water and lead, the significant difference in speed of sound is due to their vastly different properties:

  1. Density: Water is less dense than lead. The speed of sound is inversely proportional to the square root of the medium’s density. Less dense materials, like water, allow sound waves to travel faster because there are fewer particles to collide with.
  2. Elasticity: Lead is much more elastic or stiff compared to water. The speed of sound is directly proportional to the square root of the medium’s elasticity. Highly elastic materials transmit sound waves more rapidly because the particles can quickly return to their equilibrium positions after being disturbed by a sound wave.

As a result, sound travels much faster in lead, a dense and elastic material, than it does in water, which is less dense and less elastic. The speed of sound in lead is approximately 2,240 meters per second (about 7,350 feet per second), while in water, it’s around 1,480 meters per second (about 4,850 feet per second). This significant difference in speed is a result of their distinct physical properties.

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