How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 290

If electric and magnetic field are forever recreating one another - in radio waves - how do you change the sounds they produce?
Within each portion of the wave, the local electric and magnetic fields endlessly recreate one another. But this portion of the wave heads outward from the transmitting antenna at the speed of light and is soon far away from the earth. As the transmitter changes the amount of charge on the antenna or its frequency of motion up and down, it creates new portions of the wave that may differ from the portions sent out a minute ago, a second ago, or even a few millionths of a second ago. Thus the transmitter's changes very quickly pass outward to all of the receivers nearby. The farther you are from the transmitter, the longer it takes for the various patterns in the wave to reach you and your receiver. All of the music transmitted by radio stations in the 50's is still traveling outward because the patterns emitted back then continue to travel. They are now 40 or 50 light years away from the earth and are so widely dispersed across space that it would take a phenomenally sensitive receiver to detect them. But they are out there nonetheless. Many of the searches for extraterrestrial intelligence have focused on trying to detect this sort of radio transmission across the depths of space. If other peoples have invented radio, they are quite likely to have chosen AM or FM modulation as their encoding schemes, too.

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