The Science Behind Radar Guns

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How do you measure the speed of a fast-moving object? By using a speed radar gun, of course. A speed radar gun can quickly and accurately log the velocity of an object – such as a car or a ball – by using radar. Radar means Radio Detection and Ranging – it is a radio wave that bounces off something and returns, all the while traveling at the speed of light.

Though it is mostly seen in sports and law enforcement, radar guns are used in a variety of ways. It is also used in astronomy. With the help of electromagnetic radiation and the Doppler Effect, radar guns can detect and locate moving objects.

The Doppler Effect

Also known as the Doppler shift, the Doppler Effect was named after the phenomenon’s initial reporter, Christian Doppler, who was an Austrian physicist. It is the increase or decrease of a wave’s frequency as its source and its observer move toward or away from each other.

A common example of the Doppler Effect in action is the noticeable change in pitch that you hear when, for example, an ambulance rushes past you. Compared to the frequency that the siren is emitting, the frequency that is received is higher during the approach, the same when it is passing by, and then lower as it speeds away. It is important to note that, in the Doppler Effect, the actual frequency of the sound doesn’t change – just the observer’s perception of it.

The Doppler Effect can be experienced for any kind of wave, be it water, light, sound, or the like. We are just most familiar with the Doppler Effect and how it affects sound.

The Doppler Effect and Radar Guns

The Doppler Effect is the driving principle behind the radar gun. Like other types of radar, radar guns consist of a radio transmitter and a receiver.

Radar guns emit radio waves of particular frequencies in a specific direction. These radio waves hit many objects on its trajectory, which may include vehicles and balls. If there is an object in its path, some of the radio waves and electromagnetic energy will bounce back.

This is how radar guns in law enforcement work: The officer aims the speed radar gun at a moving vehicle. The radar gun will emit a burst of radio waves at a set frequency, which then strikes the moving car and bounces back to the gun. The gun then measures the frequencies of the returning waves. It determines the speed of the moving vehicle by computing the difference between the emitted frequency and the reflected frequency.

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