# Why can't we define a unique wavelength for a short wave train? [duplicate]

Here we encounter a strange thing about waves; a very simple thing . . .namely, we cannot define a unique wavelength for a short wave train. Such a wave train does not have a definite wavelength; there is an indefiniteness in the wave number that is related to the finite length of the train. . .$^\text{1}$

Now, why can't we define a unique wavelength for a wave packet?

$^\text{1}$ Lectures on Physics by Feynman, Leighton , Sands.

• related question (concerning the very same quote of Feynman): physics.stackexchange.com/q/72788/58382 – glS Mar 1 '15 at 10:11
• Wavelength is proportional to 1/f, where f is the frequency. Frequency is defined with respect to the periodicity of a sine or a cosine function. A unique wavelength signal has a unique frequency extending from -infinity to infinity periodically. When the signal has a shape in time, one uses Fourier transforms to analyze it into periodic sinusoidal components. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourier_transform . – anna v Mar 1 '15 at 11:46

I would say that an answer is that length of wave packet and width of spectrum are related by:

$\Delta\omega \Delta t\approx 1$

"Width of spectrum" here is characteristic range of frequencies that signal contains, that is width of Fourier transform of the signal. Infinite sine wave contains only 1 frequency, that is its spectrum/Fourier transform is infinitesimal thin delta function. Any other function will be constructed from many frequencies.

So that wave packet (wave train) in frequency space is defined by a bandwidth, rather than by delta function (like infinite sin wave).

See "wave packet" for more.

Simple example might demonstrate it. Delta function $\delta(t)$ in Fourier domain is constant, that is, contains all wavelengths/frequencies. Rectangular window turns into sinc function that occupies all spectrum as well.

Multiply any sine wave by rectangle (that is, create wave packet limited in time) and in Fourier space you will get convolution of delta function (defined by sine frequency) with sinc, which will give you a shifted sinc (with peak around sine function frequency).

• Sir, can you please elaborate the term "spectrum width"; it is new to me; so is the relation. If you elaborate, it will be great help. – user36790 Mar 1 '15 at 9:31
• made an edition. Shortly, if you look on Fourier transform of any signal other than infinite sine wave, it will have some distribution in frequency space. For example, gaussian function in time will have gaussian fourier transform, its width on half og function height can be called width (usual term is FWHM). – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Mar 1 '15 at 9:45