carrier wave

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A visual representation of the signal of an AM (amplitude modulation) radio station on the MW (medium wave) band, received on a Sangean ATS909 radio. The vertical line in the centre, artificially coloured red, is the carrier wave at 558 kHz (sense 1).

From carrier + wave. Sense 2 (“soliton”) was coined by the Scottish civil engineer, naval architect, and shipbuilder John Scott Russell (1808–1882): see the quotations.



carrier wave (plural carrier waves)

  1. (physics) A wave that can be modulated, either in amplitude, frequency, or phase, to carry or transmit images, music, speech, or other signals.
    • 1920 December 21, Charles White, Carrier-wave Signaling System, US Patent 1,480,235 (PDF version), page 1, column 1:
      This invention relates to carrier wave signaling systems and more particularly to systems of multiplex telephony employing carrier waves wherein such carrier waves of distinctive frequencies are normally impressed upon the transmission medium. Such medium may comprise any of the natural media employed in radio transmission or a conductive transmission line of any kind.
    • 1922 August, Monroe Worthington, “A Hill Billy’s Radio”, in Hugo Gernsback, editor, Radio News, volume 4, number 2, New York, N.Y.: Experimenter Publishing, OCLC 48581401, page 300:
      I have a waterproof basket arranged on my operating table, and when the static waves come over it, they fall in. There is no trouble in receiving music, however, for the audio frequency voice waves are superimposed on a carrier wave. This carrier wave carries the music over the basket, without falling, into the set.
    • 1944 May 4, Paul W. Nosker, System for Determining the Position or Path of an Object in Space, US Patent 2,470,787 (PDF version), column 10:
      Means for continuously obtaining information sufficient to determine the instantaneous position of an airplane with respect to three ground points located at the vertices of a triangle, said means comprising a control station located at the first of said ground points, said control station comprising a local oscillator and means for radiating a first carrier wave modulated by the frequency of said local oscillator, [...]
    • 1977, James Monaco, “Media”, in How to Read a Film: The Art, Technology, Language, History, and Theory of Film and Media, New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, OCLC 425170758, pages 349–350:
      [T]he "wireless" already depended on a wave system as the medium; how could another wave system (the signal) be carried by the wave system of the medium? Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian, was one of the first to solve this problem. His idea was to superimpose the signal wave on the carrier wave: to "modulate" the carrier wave. This is the basic concept of radio and television. Since there are two variables associated with a wave—"amplitude" or strength, and "frequency" or "wavelength"—there were two possibilities for modulation: hence the current AM (Amplitude Modulation) and FM (Frequency Modulation) systems of broadcasting.
  2. (mathematics, physics, obsolete) Synonym of soliton (a self-reinforcing pulse or travelling wave caused by any non-linear effect)
    Synonyms: solitary wave, wave of translation
    • 1877 November 30, J[ohn] Scott Russell, “[The Telephone. By Professor A[lexander] Graham Bell.] Discussion.”, in Journal of the Society of Arts, volume XXVI, number 1,306, London: Published for the Society [Royal Society of Arts] by George Bell and Sons, [], published 1878, OCLC 880942705, page 23, column 2:
      The same propagation through the same ether brought the rays of the sun's light from the sun to the earth, and the same carrier wave brought from the other side of the globe, from the oceans there, which were disturbed by the attraction of the sun and moon, those waves all round the coasts which were called tides. All these phenomena, from the tides and the wind to the rays of light and to the sounds of the telephone, were the motion of one simple phenomenon, the carrier wave, the wave of translation.
    • 1878, J[ohn] Scott Russell, “Symmetry, Harmony, and Melody”, in Geometry in Modern Life, Being the Substance of Two Lectures on Useful Geometry, Given before the Literary Society at Eton, Eton, Berkshire: Williams and Son; London: Simpkin, Marshall, and Co., OCLC 7243917, page 137:
      Noise is caused by a shock or stroke or beat given to some mass of matter. The shock tells on the mass of air near the struck body. It sends this mass of air into a heap near the struck body. This heap forms an air wave. [...] This wave is the carrier of the shock through great distances in the air, it travels with great speed. This "carrier wave" takes the shock of the stroke from afar, to the ear of the listener.
    • 1878 March 23, J. Hyslop, “Yachting. The Wave-line Theory. Its Practical Application.”, in The Country: A Weekly Journal Devoted to the Dog, the Gun, Yachting, Fishing and All Out-door Sports, volume I, number 22, New York, N.Y.: “The Country” Publishing Association, OCLC 1565320, no. II, page 312, column 1:
      Mr. [John Scott] Russell not only observed the shape and characteristics of the wave, which he called the carrier wave, or wave of translation, but he noticed the form which water assumed in filling up a cavity; and one of the means he used for this purpose was to have a boat towed at moderate and also at high velocities, and to observe the waves which followed her. These waves he found to be different from carrier waves, and he calls them following waves, or waves of replacement.
    • 1885, John Scott Russell, “Part II. The Wave of Translation and the Work It Does as the Carrier Wave of Sound.”, in The Wave of Translation in the Oceans of Water, Air, and Ether, new edition, London: Trübner & Co., [], OCLC 903856066, page 62:
      [M]eans must be taken first to create a series of solitary waves, and then to make these waves act as carrier waves, transporting the sounds from the instrument to the ear at a distance. In other words, the operation carried on in the instrument differs from the operation carried on through the air and from the effect delivered by the carrier wave.


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