In the derivation of the doppler's effect formula $$f_{app} = f\frac{v ± v_{observer}}{v ± v_{source}}$$ ​It is assumed that the speed of sound is unaffected by its source's speed (i.e it's the same relative to the ground whether the source's speed is 0, 5m/s, ...) (the source only affects its 'release point'.)

How is this true? isn't this similar to elementary relative motion questions like a bullet being shot from a moving police car at a thief (The speed at which the thief gets shot is the muzzle speed + car speed). Isn't the bullet in this example analogous to the sound produced by the source in doppler's effect?

Also, consider 2 people sitting a meter apart in a plane that is going at the speed of sound and one person decides to play a song from his phone, with this logic wouldn't the other person not hear the sound as it will have the same velocity and therefore 0 relative velocity with respect to the other person?

My hypothesis is that when we say 'speed of sound' in a medium, we mean its speed relative to the medium(In this case air) that is carrying the sound. In the airplane example, the air inside the plane is 'moving with' everything else in the plane so sound will go at its normal speed relative to THAT air(since that's the air that's carrying it) and therefore it will reach the other person, but in the doppler's effect, the sound is travelling through the 'surrounding/open' air which is at rest with respect to the ground and travels with respect to THAT air and therefore has the same speed regardless of the source's speed. Is this right?

  • $\begingroup$ This seams reasonable to me (though it is just a guess). Maybe someone else can answer in more detail. $\endgroup$
    – jng224
    Commented Feb 19, 2021 at 11:37
  • $\begingroup$ Yep, and that's why there's a shock wave when the aircraft goes supersonic. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 19, 2021 at 15:08

1 Answer 1


Yes your hypothesis is correct that the speed of sound is with respect to the medium it's transversing, in this case the air. You correctly identified that this is the reason why it's independent of source speed and it would behave in a plane like you say as well. This is part of newtonian relativity in that there are no privileged inertial frames. I.e. in a plane cockpit going the speed of sound is the same as two people standing in the ground assuming no part is accelerating.


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