What is sonar?

What is sonar? — BK, Australia

Sonar stands for “sound navigation ranging” and involves the bouncing of sound waves from objects to determine where those objects are. It’s based on the reflection of sound waves from objects. Whenever a wave of any sort moves from one medium to another and experiences a change in speed (or more generally, a change in impedance), part of that wave reflects. Because sound travels much faster in solids than it does in air, some sound reflects when it moves from air to rock—which is why you hear echoes when you yell at a mountain! But even more subtle changes in the speed of sound will cause modest reflections. Thus a sophisticated sound generator and receiver can detect objects immersed in water or buried in the ground. Another form of sonar is used in medical imaging—ultrasonic imaging.

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