Sound is a wave of alternating compression and expansion, so its speed depends on how fast it bounces back from each compression – the less compressible the medium it’s travelling through, the faster it bounces back. Water is about 15,000 times less compressible than air, but it is also 800 times denser. The extra density means that the molecules accelerate more slowly for a given force, which slows the compression wave down. So water’s high density partly offsets its extreme incompressibility and sound travels at 1,493m/s, about four times faster than through air. The speed of sound in diamond is so high because it is extremely incompressible and yet relatively light.
The speed of sound through various mediums © Raja Lockey
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