715. How does a silencer work? — AWG, Karachi, Pakistan
When a bullet emerges from the barrel of a gun, the high-pressure gas that is propelling it from behind abruptly enters the atmosphere. This sudden burst of pressurized gas is like that released by an exploding firecracker and produces a loud "pop" sound. A silencer slows down this gas's entry into the atmosphere. Before leaving the gun, the bullet passes through a series of air-filled chambers. The gas behind the bullet must enter each chamber, one at a time, and with each passage, its pressure and energy decrease. By the time the gas emerges from the last chamber, its pressure is low enough that it makes only a weak "whoosh" sound as it enters the atmosphere. This same technique is used by an automobile muffler. However, a silencer is only effective with low-velocity bullets. If the bullet itself travels faster than the speed of sound (331 m/s), it will create shock waves as soon as it enters the atmosphere and will generate its own explosion noise—miniature "sonic booms."