Doppler effect

Missing image
Sound waves emanating from an ambulance moving to the right. The perceived frequency is higher on the right, and lower on the left.

The Doppler effect, named after Christian Andreas Doppler, is the apparent change in frequency or wavelength of a wave that is perceived by an observer moving relative to the source of the waves. For waves, such as sound waves, that propagate in a wave medium, the velocity of the observer and the source are reckoned relative to the medium in which the waves are transmitted. The total Doppler effect may therefore result from either motion of the source or motion of the observer. Each of these effects is analyzed separately.

Doppler first proposed the effect in 1842 in the monograph ber das farbige Licht der Doppelsterne und einige andere Gestirne des Himmels (On the colored light of the binary star and other stars). The hypothesis was tested for sound waves by the Dutch scientist Christoph Hendrik Diederik Buys Ballot in 1845. He confirmed that the sound's pitch was higher as the sound source approached him, and lower as the sound source receded from him. Hippolyte Fizeau discovered independently the same phenomenon on electromagnetic waves in 1848 (in France, the effect is sometimes called "effet Doppler-Fizeau").

It is important to realize that the frequency of the sounds that the source emits does not actually change. To understand what happens, consider the following analogy. Someone throws one ball every second in your direction. Assume that balls travel with constant velocity. If the thrower is stationary, you will receive one ball every second. However, if he is moving towards you, you will receive balls more frequently than that because there will be less spacing between the balls. The converse is true if the person is moving away from you. So it is actually the wavelength which is affected; as a consequence, the perceived frequency is also affected.

If the moving source is emitting waves with an actual frequency f0, then an observer stationary relative to the medium detects waves with a frequency f given by:

<math>f = f_0 \frac {v}{v - v_{s, r}}<math>

where v is the speed of the waves in the medium and vs, r is the speed of the source with respect to the medium (positive if moving towards the observer, negative if moving away) radial to the observer.

A similar analysis for a moving observer and a stationary source yields the observed frequency (the observer's velocity being represented as vo):

<math>f = f_0 \left(1 + \frac {v_0}{v} \right)<math>

The first attempt to extend Doppler's analysis to light waves was soon made by Fizeau. In fact, light waves do not require a medium to propagate and the correct understanding of the Doppler effect for light requires the use of the Special Theory of Relativity. See relativistic Doppler effect.



A stationary microphone records moving police sirens at different pitches depending on their relative direction.
A stationary microphone records moving police sirens at different pitches depending on their relative direction.


The siren on a passing emergency vehicle will start out higher than its stationary pitch, slide down as it passes, and continue lower than its stationary pitch as it receedes from the observer. Astronomer John Dobson explained the effect thus:

"The reason the siren slides is because it doesn't hit you."

In other words, if the siren approached you directly, the pitch would remain constant (as vs, r is only the radial component) until the vehicle hit you, and then immediately jump to a new lower pitch. The difference between the higher pitch and rest pitch would be the same as the lower pitch and rest pitch. Because the vehicle passes by you, the radial velocity does not remain constant, but instead varies as a function of the angle between your line of sight and the siren's velocity:

<math>v_{s, r}=v_s\cdot \cos{\theta}<math>

where vs is the velocity of the object (source of waves) with respect to the medium, and <math>\theta<math> is the angle between the object's forward velocity and the line of sight from the object to the observer.


The Doppler effect for light has been of great use in astronomy. It has been used to measure the speed at which stars and galaxies are approaching to, or receding from us, i.e. the radial velocity. This is used to detect that an apparently single star is, in fact, a close binary and even to measure the speed of rotation of stars and galaxies.

The use of the Doppler effect for light in astronomy depends on the fact that the spectra of stars are not continuous. They show absorption lines at well defined frequencies that are correlated with the energies required to excite electrons in various elements from one level to another. The Doppler effect is recognizable in the fact that the absorption lines are not always at the frequencies that are obtained from the spectrum of a stationary light source. Since blue light has a higher frequency than red light, the spectral lines from an approaching astronomical light source show a blueshift and those of receding sources show a redshift.

Among the nearby stars, the largest radial velocities with respect to the Sun are +308 km/s (BD-154041, also known as LHS 52, 81.7 light-years away) and -260 km/s (Woolley 9722, also known as Wolf 1106 and LHS 64, 78.2 light-years away). Positive radial velocity means the star is receding from the Sun, negative that it is approaching.

The redshift effect that shows remote galaxies seem to be moving away from us is not caused by the Doppler effect, although many laymen believe it is. This effect is caused by the expansion of the universe, which is subtly different, and can be used to estimate the age of the universe (see redshift and Hubble's Law).

Temperature measurement

Another use of the Doppler effect which is found mostly in astronomy, is the estimation of the temperature of a gas which is emitting a spectral line. Due to the thermal motion of the gas, each emitter can be slightly red or blue shifted, and the net effect is a broadening of the line. This line shape is called a Doppler profile and the width of the line is proportional to the square root of the temperature of the gas, allowing the Doppler-broadened line to be used to measure the temperature of the emitting gas.


Main article: Doppler radar

The Doppler effect is also used in some forms of radar to measure the velocity of detected objects. A radar beam is fired at a moving target - a car, for example, as radar is often used by police to detect speeding motorists - as it recedes from the radar source. Each successive wave has to travel further to reach the car, before being reflected and re-detected near the source. As each wave has to move further, the gap between each wave increases, increasing the wavelength. In some situations, the radar beam is fired at the moving car as it approaches, in which case each successive wave travels a lesser distance, decreasing the wavelength. In either situation, calculations from the Doppler effect accurately determine the car's velocity.

Medical imaging

An echocardiogram can within certain limits produce accurate assessment of the direction of blood flow and the velocity of blood and cardiac tissue at any arbitrary point using the doppler effect. One of the limitations is that the ultrasound beam should be as parallel to the blood flow as possible. Velocity measurements allows assessment of cardiac valve areas and function, any abnormal communications between the left and right side of the heart, any leaking of blood through the valves (valvular regurgitation), and calculation of the cardiac output.

However, "Doppler" has become synonymous with "velocity measurement" in medical imaging. But in many cases it is not the frequency shift (Doppler shift) of the received signal that is measured, but the phase shift (when the received signal arrives).

Velocity measurements of blood flow is also used in other fields of medical ultrasonography, such as obstetric ultrasonography and neurology.

Flow measurement

Instruments such as the Laser Doppler Velocimeter (LDV), and Acoustic Doppler Velocimeter (ADV) have been developed to measure velocities in a fluid flow. The LDV and ADV emit a light or acoustic beam, and measure the doppler shift in wavelengths of reflections from particles moving with the flow. This technique allows non-intrusive flow measurements, at high precision and high frequency. v

External links

ca:Efecte Doppler cs:Dopplerův jev da:Dopplereffekt de:Doppler-Effekt et:Doppleri efekt es:Efecto Doppler fr:Effet Doppler-Fizeau id:Efek Doppler it:Effetto Doppler he:אפקט דופלר hu:Doppler-effektus nl:Dopplereffect ja:ドップラー効果 nb:Dopplereffekten nn:Dopplereffekten pl:Efekt Dopplera pt:Efeito Doppler ro:Efectul Doppler sr:Доплеров ефекат


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