J. M. Williams 2010-09-04 p. 3
transferred to the gun in a way which transfers a small amount of angular momentumand rotates the chamber and breech. The barrel thus is bent slightly in an upward arc,creating a second sound wave transverse to the direction of the bullet. Even AR-15models with "floating" barrels will experience this kind of wave unless the breech end of the barrel is attached exactly at the center of mass of the rest of the rifle.Finally, other, smaller, sound waves are initiated by recoil of the barrel in the directionopposite to the direction of the bullet and by friction and reaction-force of the contact of the moving bullet with the barrel's lands and grooves.The exact spectrum and other quantitative characteristics of the sound wave on thebarrel of a particular rifle are very complex and too difficult to handle here; however,every rifle will produce such a wave every time it is fired.Now, according the the
Handbook of Chemistry and Physics
, the speed of sound in thesteel typically used in a rifle barrel will be between 5 and 6 kilometers per second (km/s).The average speed of a bullet leaving the barrel of a high-powered rifle will be no morethan 1.5 km/s (4900 ft/s). Therefore, the sound wave will reach the muzzle long beforethe bullet and is likely to be reflected on the barrel several times, creating a mixture of standing-wave patterns, before the bullet can leave the barrel.So, any rifle barrel will be vibrating as the bullet reaches the muzzle. Because everyrifle has relatively fixed physical characteristics, the vibration's effect on every shot willbe about the same; so, when sighting-in a rifle, the accuracy is not greatly affected by thevibration -- the sights will be aligned to cancel the effect.But, there is another factor, a loose end. Imagine tying a long rope to a post and thenshaking the other end up and down, to produce a visible wave on the rope. The rope willconvey the wave, and the wave will be reflected by the post. One can see this wave,which is analogous to the sound wave on a gun barrel.Now, what happens if the far end of the rope is not attached to anything? The solutionis given in elementary physics textbooks, and I would like to avoid the calculations here:The far end of the rope will vibrate with
the amplitude of the wave as produced bythe hand or as travelling down the middle of the rope! This is one reason why cracking awhip works so well. You can see this effect simply by dangling a string with a smallweight (say, a knot) on its end; shake the string sideways (transversely), and the end willflip with an amplitude much greater than the amplitude of the shake.To explain this physically, briefly and intuitively, small regions of the rope in themiddle of it are both receiving and passing on momentum as the rope vibrates; but, at theend of the rope, the endpoint gets the momentum which is being sent to it as well as themomentum which it normally would pass on to farther points; thus, it vibrates with twicethe amplitude of a point in the middle of the rope. The reader can look up the physics bysearching for explanations of "reflections at a boundary" in works such as
(4th ed.) by Halliday, Resnick, and Walker. Anyway, the same holds for the rifle barrel: The muzzle vibrates with twice theamplitude of regions closer to the breech.