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Density related to compressibility.

Compressibility and Incompressibility

The terms compressibility and incompressibility describe the ability of molecules in a fluid to be compacted or compressed (made more dense) and their ability to bounce back to their original density, in other words, their "springiness." An incompressible fluid cannot be compressed and has relatively constant density throughout. Liquid is an incompressible fluid. A gaseous fluid such as air, on the other hand, can be either compressible or incompressible. Generally, for theoretical and experimental purposes, gases are assumed to be incompressible when they are moving at low speeds--under approximately 220 miles per hour. The motion of the object traveling through the air at such speed does not affect the density of the air. This assumption has been useful in aerodynamics when studying the behavior of air in relation to airfoils and other objects moving through the air at slower speeds.

However, when aircraft began traveling faster than 220 miles per hour, assumptions regarding the air through which they flew that were true at slower speeds were no longer valid. At high speeds some of the energy of the quickly moving aircraft goes into compressing the fluid (the air) and changing its density. The air at higher altitudes where these aircraft fly also has lower density than air nearer to the Earth's surface. The airflow is now compressible, and aerodynamic theories have had to reflect this. Aerodynamic theories relating to compressible airflow characteristics and behavior are considerably more complex than theories relating to incompressible airflow. The noted aerodynamicist of the early 20th century, Ludwig Prandtl, contributed the Prandtl-Glaubert rule for subsonic airflow to describe the compressibility effects of air at high speeds.

At lower altitudes, air has a higher density and is considered incompressible for theoretical and experimental purposes.