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Light or visible light is
electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. ...

electromagnetic radiation
within the portion of the
electromagnetic spectrum The electromagnetic spectrum is the range of frequencies Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time A unit of time is any particular time Time is the indefinite continued sequence, progress of existe ...

electromagnetic spectrum
that is
perceived Perception (from the Latin ''perceptio'', meaning gathering or receiving) is the organization, identification, and interpretation of Sense, sensory information in order to represent and understand the presented information or environment. ...
by the
human eye The human eye is a that reacts to and allows . and in the are photoreceptive cells which are able to detect and convey this information to the . Eyes signal information which is used by the brain to elicit the perception of colour, shape, ...

human eye
. Visible light is usually defined as having
wavelength In physics, the wavelength is the spatial period of a periodic wave—the distance over which the wave's shape repeats. It is the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase (waves), phase on the wave, such as two adja ...

wavelength
s in the range of 400–700
nanometre file:EM Spectrum Properties edit.svg, 330px, Different lengths as in respect to the Electromagnetic spectrum, measured by the Metre and its derived scales. The nanometre is often used to express dimensions on an atomic scale and mostly in the Mo ...
s (nm), between the
infrared Infrared (IR), sometimes called infrared light, is electromagnetic radiation (EMR) with wavelengths longer than those of Light, visible light. It is therefore invisible to the human eye. IR is generally understood to encompass wavelengths from ...

infrared
(with longer wavelengths) and the
ultraviolet Ultraviolet (UV) is a form of electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that stud ...

ultraviolet
(with shorter wavelengths). In
physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other words, to the regular succession of eve ...

physics
, the term "light" may refer more broadly to electromagnetic radiation of any wavelength, whether visible or not. In this sense,
gamma ray A gamma ray, also known as gamma radiation (symbol γ or \gamma), is a penetrating form of electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, it ...
s,
X-ray An X-ray, or, much less commonly, X-radiation, is a penetrating form of high-energy electromagnetic radiation. Most X-rays have a wavelength ranging from 10 Picometre, picometers to 10 Nanometre, nanometers, corresponding to frequency ...

X-ray
s,
microwave Microwave is a form of electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that studies mat ...

microwave
s and
radio wave Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that studies ma ...
s are also light. The primary properties of light are intensity, propagation direction, frequency or wavelength
spectrum A spectrum (plural ''spectra'' or ''spectrums'') is a condition that is not limited to a specific set of values but can vary, without gaps, across a Continuum (theory), continuum. The word was first used scientifically in optics to describe the ...

spectrum
and
polarization Polarization or polarisation may refer to: In the physical sciences *Polarization (waves), the ability of waves to oscillate in more than one direction, in particular polarization of light, responsible for example for the glare-reducing effect of ...
. Its speed in a vacuum, 299 792 458 metres a second (m/s), is one of the fundamental constants of nature. Like all types of electromagnetic radiation, visible light propagates by massless elementary particles called
photon The photon ( el, φῶς, phōs, light) is a type of elementary particle In , an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a that is not composed of other particles. Particles currently thought to be elementary include the fundamental s ...

photon
s that represents the
quanta
quanta
of electromagnetic field, and can be analyzed as both waves and particles. The study of light, known as
optics Optics is the branch of physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other wo ...

optics
, is an important research area in
modern physics Modern physics is a branch of physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related ent ...
. The main source of light on Earth is the
Sun The Sun is the star A star is an astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid of plasma (physics), plasma held together by its own gravity. The List of nearest stars and brown dwarfs, nearest star to Earth is the Sun. Many othe ...

Sun
. Historically, another important source of light for humans has been
fire BBQ. Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction Product (chemistry), products. Fire is hot because the conversion of the weak double bond in molecula ...

fire
, from ancient campfires to modern
kerosene lamp A kerosene lamp (also known as a paraffin lamp in some countries) is a type of lighting device that uses kerosene as a fuel. Kerosene lamps have a Candle wick, wick or gas mantle, mantle as light source, protected by a glass chimney or globe; la ...

kerosene lamp
s. With the development of
electric light An electric light is a device that produces visible light Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation within the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum The electromagnetic spectrum is the range of frequencies (the spectrum ...
s and
power systems An electric power system is a network of electrical components deployed to supply, transfer, and use electric power. An example of a power system is the electrical grid that provides power to homes and industry within an extended area. The electr ...
, electric lighting has effectively replaced firelight.


Electromagnetic spectrum and visible light

Generally,
electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. ...

electromagnetic radiation
(EMR) is classified by wavelength into
radio wave Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that studies ma ...
s,
microwave Microwave is a form of electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that studies mat ...

microwave
s,
infrared Infrared (IR), sometimes called infrared light, is electromagnetic radiation (EMR) with wavelengths longer than those of Light, visible light. It is therefore invisible to the human eye. IR is generally understood to encompass wavelengths from ...

infrared
, the
visible spectrum The visible spectrum is the portion of the that is to the . in this range of s is called ' or simply . A typical will respond to wavelengths from about 380 to about 750 . In terms of frequency, this corresponds to a band in the vicinity of ...
that we perceive as light,
ultraviolet Ultraviolet (UV) is a form of electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that stud ...

ultraviolet
,
X-ray An X-ray, or, much less commonly, X-radiation, is a penetrating form of high-energy electromagnetic radiation. Most X-rays have a wavelength ranging from 10 Picometre, picometers to 10 Nanometre, nanometers, corresponding to frequency ...

X-ray
s and
gamma ray A gamma ray, also known as gamma radiation (symbol γ or \gamma), is a penetrating form of electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, it ...
s. The designation "
radiation upThe international symbol for types and levels of ionizing radiation (radioactivity) that are unsafe for unshielded humans. Radiation, in general, exists throughout nature, such as in light and sound. In physics Physics (from grc ...

radiation
" excludes
static electric
static electric
,
magnetic Magnetism is a class of physical attributes that are mediated by s. s and the s of elementary particles give rise to a magnetic field, which acts on other currents and magnetic moments. Magnetism is one aspect of the combined phenomenon of . The ...

magnetic
and near fields. The behavior of EMR depends on its wavelength. Higher frequencies have shorter wavelengths and lower frequencies have longer wavelengths. When EMR interacts with single atoms and molecules, its behavior depends on the amount of energy per quantum it carries. EMR in the visible light region consists of
quanta
quanta
(called
photon The photon ( el, φῶς, phōs, light) is a type of elementary particle In , an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a that is not composed of other particles. Particles currently thought to be elementary include the fundamental s ...

photon
s) that are at the lower end of the energies that are capable of causing electronic excitation within molecules, which leads to changes in the bonding or chemistry of the molecule. At the lower end of the visible light spectrum, EMR becomes invisible to humans (infrared) because its photons no longer have enough individual energy to cause a lasting molecular change (a change in conformation) in the visual molecule
retinal Retinal (also known as retinaldehyde) is a polyene Polyenes are poly- unsaturated organic compound , CH4; is among the simplest organic compounds. In chemistry, organic compounds are generally any chemical compounds that contain carbon-hydro ...

retinal
in the human retina, which change triggers the sensation of vision. There exist animals that are sensitive to various types of infrared, but not by means of quantum-absorption.
Infrared sensing in snakes The ability to sense infrared Infrared (IR), sometimes called infrared light, is (EMR) with s longer than those of . It is therefore invisible to the human eye. IR is generally understood to encompass wavelengths from around 1  (300&nbs ...
depends on a kind of natural
thermal imaging Infrared thermography (IRT), thermal video and/or thermal imaging, is a process where a thermal camera A thermographic camera (also called an infrared camera or thermal imaging camera or thermal imager) is a device that creates an image using ...
, in which tiny packets of cellular water are raised in temperature by the infrared radiation. EMR in this range causes molecular vibration and heating effects, which is how these animals detect it. Above the range of visible light, ultraviolet light becomes invisible to humans, mostly because it is absorbed by the cornea below 360 nm and the internal lens below 400 nm. Furthermore, the rods and
cones A cone is a three-dimensional space, three-dimensional geometric shape that tapers smoothly from a flat base (frequently, though not necessarily, circular) to a point called the Apex (geometry), apex or vertex (geometry), vertex. A cone is fo ...

cones
located in the
retina The retina (from la, rete "net") is the innermost, light-sensitive layer of tissue of the eye Eyes are organs of the visual system. They provide living organisms with vision, the ability to receive and process visual detail, as well ...

retina
of the human eye cannot detect the very short (below 360 nm) ultraviolet wavelengths and are in fact damaged by ultraviolet. Many animals with eyes that do not require lenses (such as insects and shrimp) are able to detect ultraviolet, by quantum photon-absorption mechanisms, in much the same chemical way that humans detect visible light. Various sources define visible light as narrowly as 420–680 nm to as broadly as 380–800 nm. Under ideal laboratory conditions, people can see infrared up to at least 1,050 nm; children and young adults may perceive ultraviolet wavelengths down to about 310–313 nm. Plant growth is also affected by the colour spectrum of light, a process known as
photomorphogenesisIn developmental biology Developmental biology is the study of the process by which animal Animals (also called Metazoa) are multicellular eukaryotic organisms that form the Kingdom (biology), biological kingdom Animalia. With few exception ...
.


Speed of light

The speed of light in a
vacuum A vacuum is a space Space is the boundless three-dimensional Three-dimensional space (also: 3-space or, rarely, tri-dimensional space) is a geometric setting in which three values (called parameter A parameter (from the Ancient Gree ...

vacuum
is defined to be exactly 299 792 458  m/s (approx. 186,282 miles per second). The fixed value of the speed of light in SI units results from the fact that the metre is now defined in terms of the speed of light. All forms of electromagnetic radiation move at exactly this same speed in vacuum. Different
physicist A physicist is a scientist A scientist is a person who conducts scientific research The scientific method is an Empirical evidence, empirical method of acquiring knowledge that has characterized the development of science since at leas ...

physicist
s have attempted to measure the speed of light throughout history.
Galileo Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de' Galilei ( , ; 15 February 1564 – 8 January 1642), commonly referred to as Galileo, was an astronomer An astronomer is a scientist in the field of astronomy who focuses their studies on a specific qu ...

Galileo
attempted to measure the speed of light in the seventeenth century. An early experiment to measure the speed of light was conducted by
Ole Rømer
Ole Rømer
, a Danish physicist, in 1676. Using a
telescope A telescope is an optical instrument An optical instrument (or "optic" for short) is a device that processes light waves (or photons), either to enhance an image for viewing or to analyze and determine their characteristic properties. Common ...

telescope
, Rømer observed the motions of
Jupiter Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest in the Solar System. It is a gas giant A gas giant is a giant planet composed mainly of hydrogen Hydrogen is the chemical element with the Symbol (chemistry), symbol H and at ...

Jupiter
and one of its
moons A natural satellite, or moon, is, in the most common usage, an astronomical body that orbit In physics, an orbit is the gravitationally curved trajectory of an physical body, object, such as the trajectory of a planet around a star or ...

moons
, Io. Noting discrepancies in the apparent period of Io's orbit, he calculated that light takes about 22 minutes to traverse the diameter of Earth's orbit. However, its size was not known at that time. If Rømer had known the diameter of the Earth's orbit, he would have calculated a speed of 227 000 000 m/s. Another more accurate measurement of the speed of light was performed in Europe by
Hippolyte Fizeau Armand Hippolyte Louis Fizeau FRS FRSE MIF (23 September 181918 September 1896) was a French physicist A physicist is a scientist A scientist is a person who conducts Scientific method, scientific research to advance knowledge in an Branch ...

Hippolyte Fizeau
in 1849. Fizeau directed a beam of light at a mirror several kilometers away. A rotating
cog wheel Cast iron mortise wheel with wooden cogs (powered by an external water wheel) meshing with a cast iron gear wheel, connected to a pulley A pulley is a wheel on an axle or shaft (mechanical engineering), shaft that is designed to support ...
was placed in the path of the light beam as it traveled from the source, to the mirror and then returned to its origin. Fizeau found that at a certain rate of rotation, the beam would pass through one gap in the wheel on the way out and the next gap on the way back. Knowing the distance to the mirror, the number of teeth on the wheel and the rate of rotation, Fizeau was able to calculate the speed of light as 313 000 000 m/s.
Léon Foucault Jean Bernard Léon Foucault ( , , ; 18 September 1819 – 11 February 1868) was a French physicist A physicist is a scientist A scientist is a person who conducts Scientific method, scientific research to advance knowledge in an Branches of ...
carried out an experiment which used rotating mirrors to obtain a value of 298 000 000 m/s in 1862. Albert A. Michelson conducted experiments on the speed of light from 1877 until his death in 1931. He refined Foucault's methods in 1926 using improved rotating mirrors to measure the time it took light to make a round trip from Mount Wilson to
Mount San Antonio Mount San Antonio, colloquially referred to as Mount Baldy or Old Baldy, is a peak in the San Gabriel Mountains in Los Angeles County, California, Los Angeles County, California. Lying within the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and Angele ...

Mount San Antonio
in California. The precise measurements yielded a speed of 299 796 000 m/s. The effective velocity of light in various transparent substances containing ordinary
matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ultimately composed of atoms, which are made up of interacting subatomic particl ...
, is less than in vacuum. For example, the speed of light in water is about 3/4 of that in vacuum. Two independent teams of physicists were said to bring light to a "complete standstill" by passing it through a
Bose–Einstein condensate In condensed matter physics Condensed matter physics is the field of physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science ...
of the element
rubidium Rubidium is the chemical element upright=1.0, 500px, The chemical elements ordered by link=Periodic table In chemistry Chemistry is the science, scientific study of the properties and behavior of matter. It is a natural science th ...

rubidium
, one team at
Harvard University Harvard University is a private Private or privates may refer to: Music * "In Private "In Private" was the third single in a row to be a charting success for United Kingdom, British singer Dusty Springfield, after an absence of nearly t ...

Harvard University
and the
Rowland Institute for Science The Rowland Institute for Science was founded by Edwin H. Land, founder of Polaroid Corporation Polaroid was an American company best known for its instant film and cameras. The company was founded in 1937 by Edwin H. Land, to exploit the use of i ...
in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the other at the
Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics The Center for Astrophysics , Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA) is an astrophysics research institute jointly operated by the Harvard College Observatory and Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Founded in 1973 and headquartered in Cambridge, Mass ...
, also in Cambridge. However, the popular description of light being "stopped" in these experiments refers only to light being stored in the excited states of atoms, then re-emitted at an arbitrary later time, as stimulated by a second laser pulse. During the time it had "stopped" it had ceased to be light.


Optics

The study of light and the interaction of light and
matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ultimately composed of atoms, which are made up of interacting subatomic particl ...
is termed
optics Optics is the branch of physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other wo ...

optics
. The observation and study of
optical phenomena Optical phenomena are any observable events that result from the interaction of light Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation within the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that can be visual perception, perceived by the huma ...
such as
rainbow A rainbow is a meteorological Meteorology is a branch of the atmospheric sciences which includes atmospheric chemistry and atmospheric physics, with a major focus on weather forecasting Weather forecasting is the application of sc ...

rainbow
s and the
aurora borealis An aurora (plural: auroras or aurorae), sometimes referred to as polar lights (aurora polaris), northern lights (aurora borealis), or southern lights (aurora australis), is a natural light display in the Earth's sky, predominantly seen in high-l ...
offer many clues as to the nature of light.


Refraction

Refraction is the bending of light rays when passing through a surface between one transparent material and another. It is described by
Snell's Law of light at the interface between two media of different refractive index, refractive indices, with n2 > n1. Since the velocity is lower in the second medium (v2 < v1), the angle of refraction θ2 is less than the angle of in ...

Snell's Law
: :n_1\sin\theta_1 = n_2\sin\theta_2\ . where θ1 is the angle between the ray and the surface normal in the first medium, θ2 is the angle between the ray and the surface normal in the second medium and n1 and n2 are the indices of refraction, ''n'' = 1 in a
vacuum A vacuum is a space Space is the boundless three-dimensional Three-dimensional space (also: 3-space or, rarely, tri-dimensional space) is a geometric setting in which three values (called parameter A parameter (from the Ancient Gree ...

vacuum
and ''n'' > 1 in a
transparent Transparency, transparence or transparent most often refer to transparency and translucency, the physical property of allowing the transmission of light through a material. They may also refer to: Literal uses * Transparency (photography), a sti ...
substance Substance may refer to: * Substance (Jainism), a term in Jain ontology to denote the base or owner of attributes * Chemical substance, a material with a definite chemical composition * Matter, anything that has mass and takes up space * Substance th ...
. When a beam of light crosses the boundary between a vacuum and another medium, or between two different media, the wavelength of the light changes, but the frequency remains constant. If the beam of light is not
orthogonal In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). ...

orthogonal
(or rather normal) to the boundary, the change in wavelength results in a change in the direction of the beam. This change of direction is known as
refraction In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force ...

refraction
. The refractive quality of
lenses A lens is a transmissive optics, optical device that focuses or disperses a light beam by means of refraction. A simple lens consists of a single piece of transparent material, while a #Compound lenses, compound lens consists of several simple ...

lenses
is frequently used to manipulate light in order to change the apparent size of images.
Magnifying glass A magnifying glass is a Lens (optics)#Types of simple lenses, convex lens that is used to produce a magnification, magnified image of an object. The lens (optics), lens is usually mounted in a frame with a handle. A magnifying glass can be used ...

Magnifying glass
es,
spectacles Glasses, also known as eyeglasses or spectacles, are Visual perception, vision eyewear, consisting of glass or hard plastic lens (optics), lenses mounted in a frame that holds them in front of a person's Human eye, eyes, typically utilizing a b ...

spectacles
,
contact lens One-day disposable contact lenses with blue handling tint in blister-pack packaging Contact lenses, or simply contacts, are thin lenses A lens is a transmissive optics, optical device that focuses or disperses a light beam by means of ...

contact lens
es,
microscope A microscope (from grc, μικρός ''mikrós'' 'small' and ''skopeîn'' 'to look (at); examine, inspect') is a used to examine objects that are too small to be seen by the . is the of investigating small objects and structures using a ...

microscope
s and
refracting telescope A refracting telescope (also called a refractor) is a type of optical telescope that uses a lens (optics), lens as its objective (optics), objective to form an image (also referred to a dioptrics, dioptric telescope). The refracting telescope de ...
s are all examples of this manipulation.


Light sources

There are many sources of light. A body at a given temperature emits a characteristic spectrum of
black-body A black body or blackbody is an idealized physical body that absorbs all incident electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''ph ...

black-body
radiation. A simple thermal source is sunlight, the radiation emitted by the
chromosphere The Sun observed through a telescope with a Hydrogen-alpha filter The chromosphere ("sphere of color") is the second of the three main layers in the Sun's atmosphere and is roughly 3,000 to 5,000 kilometers deep. Its rosy red color is only appa ...

chromosphere
of the
Sun The Sun is the star A star is an astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid of plasma (physics), plasma held together by its own gravity. The List of nearest stars and brown dwarfs, nearest star to Earth is the Sun. Many othe ...

Sun
at around peaks in the visible region of the electromagnetic spectrum when plotted in wavelength units and roughly 44% of sunlight energy that reaches the ground is visible. Another example is
incandescent light bulb An incandescent light bulb, incandescent lamp or incandescent light globe is an with a wire heated until it glows. The filament is enclosed in a glass bulb with a vacuum or inert gas to protect the filament from . Current is supplied to the ...

incandescent light bulb
s, which emit only around 10% of their energy as visible light and the remainder as infrared. A common thermal light source in history is the glowing solid particles in
flames A flame (from Latin ''flamma Flamma (lit. The Flame) was a Syrians, Syrian gladiator under the Roman Empire during the reign of Hadrian. He was one of the most famous and successful of his time. History How Flamma ended up as a gladiator is u ...

flames
, but these also emit most of their radiation in the infrared and only a fraction in the visible spectrum. The peak of the black-body spectrum is in the deep infrared, at about 10
micrometre The micrometre ( international spelling as used by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures The International Bureau of Weights and Measures (french: Bureau international des poids et mesures, BIPM) is an intergovernmental orga ...
wavelength, for relatively cool objects like human beings. As the temperature increases, the peak shifts to shorter wavelengths, producing first a red glow, then a white one and finally a blue-white colour as the peak moves out of the visible part of the spectrum and into the ultraviolet. These colours can be seen when metal is heated to "red hot" or "white hot". Blue-white
thermal emission Thermal radiation in visible light can be seen on this hot metalwork. Its emission in the infrared is invisible to the human eye. Infrared cameras are capable of capturing this infrared emission (see Thermography). Thermal radiation is electro ...
is not often seen, except in stars (the commonly seen pure-blue colour in a
gas Gas is one of the four fundamental states of matter In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space ...

gas
flame or a
welder In a broad sense, a welder is anyone, amateur or professional, who uses welding equipment, perhaps especially one who uses such equipment fairly often. In a narrower sense, a welder is a Tradesman, tradesperson who specializes in welding, fusing ...

welder
's torch is in fact due to molecular emission, notably by CH radicals (emitting a wavelength band around 425 nm and is not seen in stars or pure thermal radiation). Atoms emit and absorb light at characteristic energies. This produces "
emission line A spectral line is a dark or bright line in an otherwise uniform and continuous spectrum, resulting from emission (electromagnetic radiation), emission or absorption (electromagnetic radiation), absorption of light in a narrow frequency range, c ...
s" in the spectrum of each atom. Emission can be
spontaneous Spontaneous may refer to: * Miscarriage, Spontaneous abortion * Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis * Spontaneous combustion * Excited utterance, Spontaneous declaration * Spontaneous emission * Spontaneous fission * Spontaneous generation * Spontane ...
, as in
light-emitting diode A light-emitting diode (LED) is a semiconductor A semiconductor material has an value falling between that of a , such as metallic copper, and an , such as glass. Its falls as its temperature rises; metals behave in the opposite ...
s,
gas dischargeElectric discharge in gases occurs when electric current flows through a gaseous medium due to ionization of the gas. Depending on several factors, the discharge may radiate visible light. The properties of electric discharges in gases are studied ...

gas discharge
lamps (such as
neon lamp A neon lamp (also neon glow lamp) is a miniature gas discharge lamp Gas-discharge lamps are a family of artificial light sources that generate light by sending an electric discharge An electric discharge is the release and transmission of e ...

neon lamp
s and
neon sign Neon is a chemical element upright=1.0, 500px, The chemical elements ordered by link=Periodic table In chemistry Chemistry is the science, scientific study of the properties and behavior of matter. It is a natural science that co ...

neon sign
s,
mercury-vapor lamp A mercury-vapor lamp is a gas-discharge lamp Gas-discharge lamps are a family of artificial light sources that generate light by sending an electric discharge through an ionization, ionized gas, a plasma (physics), plasma. Typically, such ...
s, etc.) and flames (light from the hot gas itself—so, for example,
sodium Sodium is a with the  Na (from Latin ''natrium'') and  11. It is a soft, silvery-white, highly reactive . Sodium is an , being in of the periodic table. Its only stable is 23Na. The free metal does not occur in nature, and must be ...

sodium
in a gas flame emits characteristic yellow light). Emission can also be , as in a
laser A laser is a device that emits light Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation within the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visual perception, perceived by the human eye. Visible light is usually defined as h ...

laser
or a microwave
maser (see description below) A maser (, an acronym for microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) is a device that produces coherence (physics), coherent electromagnetic waves through amplification by stimulated emission. The firs ...

maser
. Deceleration of a free charged particle, such as an
electron The electron is a subatomic particle (denoted by the symbol or ) whose electric charge is negative one elementary charge. Electrons belong to the first generation (particle physics), generation of the lepton particle family, and are general ...

electron
, can produce visible radiation:
cyclotron radiationCyclotron radiation is electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time ...
,
synchrotron radiation Synchrotron radiation (also known as magnetobremsstrahlung radiation) is the electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physic ...
and
bremsstrahlung ''Bremsstrahlung'' (), from "to brake" and "radiation"; i.e., "braking radiation" or "deceleration radiation", is electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fund ...

bremsstrahlung
radiation are all examples of this. Particles moving through a medium faster than the speed of light in that medium can produce visible Cherenkov radiation. Certain chemicals produce visible radiation by chemoluminescence. In living things, this process is called
bioluminescence Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism. It is a form of chemiluminescence. Bioluminescence occurs widely in marine vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as in some Fungus , fungi, microorganisms includ ...
. For example,
fireflies The Lampyridae are a family (biology), family of insects in the beetle order (biology), order Coleoptera with more than 2,000 described species. They are soft-bodied beetles that are commonly called fireflies, glowworms, or lightning bugs for t ...

fireflies
produce light by this means and boats moving through water can disturb plankton which produce a glowing wake. Certain substances produce light when they are illuminated by more energetic radiation, a process known as
fluorescence light. Fluorescence is the emission of light Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation within the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that can be visual perception, perceived by the human eye. Visible light is usually defi ...

fluorescence
. Some substances emit light slowly after excitation by more energetic radiation. This is known as
phosphorescence Phosphorescence is a type of photoluminescence related to fluorescence. When exposed to light (radiation) of a shorter wavelength, a phosphorescent substance will glow, absorbing the light and reemitting it at a longer wavelength. Unlike flu ...

phosphorescence
. Phosphorescent materials can also be excited by bombarding them with subatomic particles.
CathodoluminescenceCathodoluminescence is an optical and electromagnetic phenomenon in which electrons impacting on a luminescent material such as a phosphor A phosphor is a substance that exhibits the phenomenon of luminescence; it emits light when exposed to ...
is one example. This mechanism is used in
cathode ray tube A cathode-ray tube (CRT) is a vacuum tube A vacuum tube, electron tube, valve (British usage), or tube (North America), is a device that controls electric current An electric current is a stream of charged particles, such as electrons ...

cathode ray tube
television set A television set or television receiver, more commonly called the television, TV, TV set, tube, telly, or tele, is a device that combines a tuner, display, and loudspeakers, for the purpose of viewing and hearing television Television ...
s and
computer monitor A computer monitor is an output device that displays information in pictorial or text form. A monitor usually comprises a electronic visual display, visual display, electronic circuit, some circuitry, a casing, and a power supply. The display de ...

computer monitor
s. Certain other mechanisms can produce light: *
Bioluminescence Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism. It is a form of chemiluminescence. Bioluminescence occurs widely in marine vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as in some Fungus , fungi, microorganisms includ ...
* Cherenkov radiation *
Electroluminescence Electroluminescence (EL) is an optical phenomenon and electrical phenomenon in which a material emits light in response to the passage of an electric current or to a strong electric field. This is distinct from black body light emission resulting f ...
* Scintillation * *
Triboluminescence Triboluminescence is a phenomenon in which light Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation within the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that can be visual perception, perceived by the human eye. Visible light is usually defined ...
When the concept of light is intended to include very-high-energy photons (gamma rays), additional generation mechanisms include: * Particle–
antiparticle s (left) and antiparticles (right). From top to bottom; electron The electron is a subatomic particle In physical sciences, subatomic particles are smaller than atom An atom is the smallest unit of ordinary matter In classica ...
annihilation *
Radioactive decay Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by radiation. A material containing unstable nuclei is conside ...

Radioactive decay


Measurement

Light is measured with two main alternative sets of units:
radiometry Radiometry is a set of techniques for measuring Measurement is the quantification of attributes of an object or event, which can be used to compare with other objects or events. The scope and application of measurement are dependent on the ...
consists of measurements of light power at all wavelengths, while
photometryPhotometry can refer to: * Photometry (optics), the science of measurement of visible light in terms of its perceived brightness to human vision * Photometry (astronomy), the measurement of the flux or intensity of an astronomical object's electroma ...
measures light with wavelength weighted with respect to a standardized model of human brightness perception. Photometry is useful, for example, to quantify
Illumination (lighting) Lighting or illumination is the deliberate use of light Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation within the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that can be visual perception, perceived by the human eye. Visible light is us ...
intended for human use. The photometry units are different from most systems of physical units in that they take into account how the human eye responds to light. The
cone cell Cone cells, or cones, are photoreceptor cells A photoreceptor cell is a specialized type of neuroepithelial cell found in the retina The retina (from la, rete) is the innermost, light-sensitive layer of tissue of the eye of most ve ...

cone cell
s in the human eye are of three types which respond differently across the visible spectrum and the cumulative response peaks at a wavelength of around 555 nm. Therefore, two sources of light which produce the same intensity (W/m2) of visible light do not necessarily appear equally bright. The photometry units are designed to take this into account and therefore are a better representation of how "bright" a light appears to be than raw intensity. They relate to raw
power Power typically refers to: * Power (physics) In physics, power is the amount of energy transferred or converted per unit time. In the International System of Units, the unit of power is the watt, equal to one joule per second. In older works, p ...
by a quantity called
luminous efficacy Luminous efficacy is a measure of how well a light source produces visible light. It is the ratio of luminous flux up Integrating sphere used for measuring the luminous flux of a light source. In photometry (optics), photometry, luminous flux or ...
and are used for purposes like determining how to best achieve sufficient illumination for various tasks in indoor and outdoor settings. The illumination measured by a
photocell Photodetectors, also called photosensors, are sensors In the broadest definition, a sensor is a device, module, machine, or subsystem whose purpose is to detect events or changes in its environment and send the information to other electro ...

photocell
sensor does not necessarily correspond to what is perceived by the human eye and without filters which may be costly, photocells and
charge-coupled device A charge-coupled device (CCD) is an integrated circuit containing an array of linked, or coupled, capacitors. Under the control of an external circuit, each capacitor can transfer its electric charge to a neighboring capacitor. CCD sensors are a ...
s (CCD) tend to respond to some
infrared Infrared (IR), sometimes called infrared light, is electromagnetic radiation (EMR) with wavelengths longer than those of Light, visible light. It is therefore invisible to the human eye. IR is generally understood to encompass wavelengths from ...

infrared
,
ultraviolet Ultraviolet (UV) is a form of electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that stud ...

ultraviolet
or both.


Light pressure

Light exerts physical pressure on objects in its path, a phenomenon which can be deduced by Maxwell's equations, but can be more easily explained by the particle nature of light: photons strike and transfer their momentum. Light pressure is equal to the power of the light beam divided by '' c'', the speed of light. Due to the magnitude of ''c'', the effect of light pressure is negligible for everyday objects. For example, a one-milliwatt
laser pointer A laser pointer or laser pen is a small handheld device with a power source (usually a battery) and a laser diode emitting a very narrow Coherence (physics), coherent low-powered laser beam of visible light, intended to be used to highlight some ...

laser pointer
exerts a force of about 3.3 piconewtons on the object being illuminated; thus, one could lift a U.S. penny with laser pointers, but doing so would require about 30 billion 1-mW laser pointers. However, in
nanometre file:EM Spectrum Properties edit.svg, 330px, Different lengths as in respect to the Electromagnetic spectrum, measured by the Metre and its derived scales. The nanometre is often used to express dimensions on an atomic scale and mostly in the Mo ...
-scale applications such as nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS), the effect of light pressure is more significant and exploiting light pressure to drive NEMS mechanisms and to flip nanometre-scale physical switches in integrated circuits is an active area of research. At larger scales, light pressure can cause
asteroid An asteroid is a minor planet of the Solar System#Inner solar system, inner Solar System. Historically, these terms have been applied to any astronomical object orbiting the Sun that did not resolve into a disc in a telescope and was not observ ...

asteroid
s to spin faster, acting on their irregular shapes as on the vanes of a
windmill A windmill is a structure that converts wind power into rotational energy by means of vanes called windmill sail, sails or blades, specifically to mill (grinding), mill grain (gristmills), but the term is also extended to windpumps, wind turbine ...

windmill
. The possibility of making
solar sail Solar sails (also called light sails or photon sails) are a method of spacecraft propulsion Spacecraft propulsion is any method used to accelerate spacecraft File:Space Shuttle Columbia launching.jpg, 275px, The US Space Shuttle flew ...
s that would accelerate spaceships in space is also under investigation. Although the motion of the
Crookes radiometer Image:Crookes radiometer.jpg, thumbnail, Crookes radiometer The Crookes radiometer (also known as a light mill) consists of an airtight glass bulb containing a partial vacuum, with a set of vanes which are mounted on a spindle inside. The vanes rot ...

Crookes radiometer
was originally attributed to light pressure, this interpretation is incorrect; the characteristic Crookes rotation is the result of a partial vacuum. This should not be confused with the
Nichols radiometer A Nichols radiometer was the apparatus used by Ernest Fox Nichols and Gordon Ferrie Hull in 1901 for the measurement of radiation pressure. It consisted of a pair of small silvered glass mirror Grange, East Yorkshire, UK, from World War I. ...

Nichols radiometer
, in which the (slight) motion caused by torque (though not enough for full rotation against friction) ''is'' directly caused by light pressure. As a consequence of light pressure,
Einstein Albert Einstein ( ; ; 14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist, widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest physicists of all time. Einstein is known for developing the theory of relativity The theory ...

Einstein
in 1909 predicted the existence of "radiation friction" which would oppose the movement of matter. He wrote, "radiation will exert pressure on both sides of the plate. The forces of pressure exerted on the two sides are equal if the plate is at rest. However, if it is in motion, more radiation will be reflected on the surface that is ahead during the motion (front surface) than on the back surface. The backwardacting force of pressure exerted on the front surface is thus larger than the force of pressure acting on the back. Hence, as the resultant of the two forces, there remains a force that counteracts the motion of the plate and that increases with the velocity of the plate. We will call this resultant 'radiation friction' in brief." Usually light momentum is aligned with its direction of motion. However, for example in
evanescent wave In electromagnetics Electromagnetism is a branch of physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that studies matte ...

evanescent wave
s momentum is transverse to direction of propagation.


Historical theories about light, in chronological order


Classical Greece and Hellenism

In the fifth century BC,
Empedocles Empedocles (; grc-gre, Ἐμπεδοκλῆς Empedocles (; grc-gre, wikt:Ἐμπεδοκλῆς, Ἐμπεδοκλῆς; , 444–443 BC) was a Ancient Greece, Greek pre-Socratic philosopher and a native citizen of Akragas, a Greek city ...

Empedocles
postulated that everything was composed of four elements; fire, air, earth and water. He believed that
Aphrodite Aphrodite; , , ) is an ancient Greek goddess associated with love Love encompasses a range of strong and positive emotional and mental states, from the most sublime virtue or good habit, the deepest Interpersonal relationship, interpe ...

Aphrodite
made the human eye out of the four elements and that she lit the fire in the eye which shone out from the eye making sight possible. If this were true, then one could see during the night just as well as during the day, so Empedocles postulated an interaction between rays from the eyes and rays from a source such as the sun. In about 300 BC,
Euclid Euclid (; grc-gre, Εὐκλείδης Euclid (; grc, Εὐκλείδης – ''Eukleídēs'', ; fl. 300 BC), sometimes called Euclid of Alexandria to distinguish him from Euclid of Megara, was a Greek mathematician, often referre ...

Euclid
wrote ''Optica'', in which he studied the properties of light. Euclid postulated that light travelled in straight lines and he described the laws of reflection and studied them mathematically. He questioned that sight is the result of a beam from the eye, for he asks how one sees the stars immediately, if one closes one's eyes, then opens them at night. If the beam from the eye travels infinitely fast this is not a problem. In 55 BC,
Lucretius Titus Lucretius Carus ( , ; 99 – c. 55 BC) was a Ancient Rome, Roman Roman literature, poet and Ancient Roman philosophy, philosopher. His only known work is the philosophical poem ''De rerum natura'', a didactic work about the tenets and ...
, a Roman who carried on the ideas of earlier Greek
atomists Atomism (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million ...
, wrote that "The light & heat of the sun; these are composed of minute atoms which, when they are shoved off, lose no time in shooting right across the interspace of air in the direction imparted by the shove." (from ''On the nature of the Universe''). Despite being similar to later particle theories, Lucretius's views were not generally accepted.
Ptolemy Claudius Ptolemy (; grc-koi, Κλαύδιος Πτολεμαῖος, , ; la, Claudius Ptolemaeus; AD) was a mathematician A mathematician is someone who uses an extensive knowledge of mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes ...
(c. 2nd century) wrote about the
refraction In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force ...

refraction
of light in his book ''Optics''.


Classical India

In
ancient India According to consensus in modern genetics, anatomically modern humans first arrived on the Indian subcontinent from Africa between 73,000 and 55,000 years ago. Quote: "Y-Chromosome and Mt-DNA data support the colonization of South Asia by mod ...
, the
Hindu Hindus (; ) are persons who regard themselves as culturally, ethnically, or religiously adhering to aspects of Hinduism Hinduism () is an Indian religion Indian religions, sometimes also termed Dharmic religions or Indic re ...

Hindu
schools of
Samkhya ''Samkhya'' ( sa, साङ्ख्य, IAST The International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (IAST) is a transliteration scheme that allows the lossless romanisation of Brahmic family, Indic scripts as employed by Sanskrit and re ...
and
Vaisheshika Vaisheshika or Vaiśeṣika ( sa, वैशेषिक) is one of the six schools of Indian philosophy Indian philosophy refers to philosophical traditions of the Indian subcontinent. A traditional Hindu classification divides āstika and ...
, from around the early centuries AD developed theories on light. According to the Samkhya school, light is one of the five fundamental "subtle" elements (''tanmatra'') out of which emerge the gross elements. The atomicity of these elements is not specifically mentioned and it appears that they were actually taken to be continuous. On the other hand, the Vaisheshika school gives an
atomic theory Atomic theory is the scientific theory A scientific theory is an explanation of an aspect of the natural world and universe that has been repeatedly tested and verified in accordance with the scientific method The scientific method is ...
of the physical world on the non-atomic ground of Aether (classical element), ether, space and time. (See ''Atomism#Indian atomism, Indian atomism''.) The basic atoms are those of earth (''prthivi''), water (''pani''), fire (''agni'') and air (''vayu'') Light rays are taken to be a stream of high velocity of ''tejas'' (fire) atoms. The particles of light can exhibit different characteristics depending on the speed and the arrangements of the ''tejas'' atoms. The ''Vishnu Purana'' refers to sunlight as "the seven rays of the sun". The Indian Buddhists, such as Dignāga in the 5th century and Dharmakirti in the 7th century, developed a type of atomism that is a philosophy about reality being composed of atomic entities that are momentary flashes of light or energy. They viewed light as being an atomic entity equivalent to energy.


Descartes

René Descartes (1596–1650) held that light was a Mechanism (philosophy), mechanical property of the luminous body, rejecting the "forms" of Alhazen, Ibn al-Haytham and Witelo as well as the "species" of Roger Bacon#Legacy, Bacon, Grosseteste and Kepler.''Theories of light, from Descartes to Newton'' A.I. Sabra CUP Archive,1981 p. 48 In 1637 he published a theory of the
refraction In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force ...

refraction
of light that assumed, incorrectly, that light travelled faster in a denser medium than in a less dense medium. Descartes arrived at this conclusion by analogy with the behaviour of sound waves. Although Descartes was incorrect about the relative speeds, he was correct in assuming that light behaved like a wave and in concluding that refraction could be explained by the speed of light in different media. Descartes is not the first to use the mechanical analogies but because he clearly asserts that light is only a mechanical property of the luminous body and the transmitting medium, Descartes' theory of light is regarded as the start of modern physical optics.


Particle theory

Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655), an atomist, proposed a particle theory of light which was published posthumously in the 1660s. Isaac Newton studied Gassendi's work at an early age and preferred his view to Descartes' theory of the ''plenum''. He stated in his ''Hypothesis of Light'' of 1675 that light was composed of Corpuscularianism, corpuscles (particles of matter) which were emitted in all directions from a source. One of Newton's arguments against the wave nature of light was that waves were known to bend around obstacles, while light travelled only in straight lines. He did, however, explain the phenomenon of the diffraction of light (which had been observed by Francesco Maria Grimaldi, Francesco Grimaldi) by allowing that a light particle could create a localised wave in the Aether (classical element), aether. Newton's theory could be used to predict the Reflection (physics), reflection of light, but could only explain
refraction In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force ...

refraction
by incorrectly assuming that light accelerated upon entering a denser Medium (optics), medium because the gravity, gravitational pull was greater. Newton published the final version of his theory in his ''Opticks'' of 1704. His reputation helped the particle theory of light to hold sway during the 18th century. The particle theory of light led Laplace to argue that a body could be so massive that light could not escape from it. In other words, it would become what is now called a black hole. Laplace withdrew his suggestion later, after a wave theory of light became firmly established as the model for light (as has been explained, neither a particle or wave theory is fully correct). A translation of Newton's essay on light appears in ''The large scale structure of space-time'', by Stephen Hawking and George F. R. Ellis. The fact that light could be polarized light, polarized was for the first time qualitatively explained by Newton using the particle theory. Étienne-Louis Malus in 1810 created a mathematical particle theory of polarization. Jean-Baptiste Biot in 1812 showed that this theory explained all known phenomena of light polarization. At that time the polarization was considered as the proof of the particle theory.


Wave theory

To explain the origin of colours, Robert Hooke (1635–1703) developed a "pulse theory" and compared the spreading of light to that of waves in water in his 1665 work ''Micrographia'' ("Observation IX"). In 1672 Hooke suggested that light's vibrations could be perpendicular to the direction of propagation. Christiaan Huygens (1629–1695) worked out a mathematical wave theory of light in 1678 and published it in his ''Treatise on light'' in 1690. He proposed that light was emitted in all directions as a series of waves in a medium called the luminiferous aether. As waves are not affected by gravity, it was assumed that they slowed down upon entering a denser medium. The wave theory predicted that light waves could interfere with each other like sound waves (as noted around 1800 by Thomas Young (scientist), Thomas Young). Young showed by means of a double-slit experiment, diffraction experiment that light behaved as waves. He also proposed that different colours were caused by different
wavelength In physics, the wavelength is the spatial period of a periodic wave—the distance over which the wave's shape repeats. It is the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase (waves), phase on the wave, such as two adja ...

wavelength
s of light and explained colour vision in terms of three-coloured receptors in the eye. Another supporter of the wave theory was Leonhard Euler. He argued in ''Nova theoria lucis et colorum'' (1746) that diffraction could more easily be explained by a wave theory. In 1816 André-Marie Ampère gave Augustin-Jean Fresnel an idea that the polarization of light can be explained by the wave theory if light were a transverse wave. Later, Fresnel independently worked out his own wave theory of light and presented it to the Académie des Sciences in 1817. Siméon Denis Poisson added to Fresnel's mathematical work to produce a convincing argument in favor of the wave theory, helping to overturn Newton's corpuscular theory. By the year 1821, Fresnel was able to show via mathematical methods that polarization could be explained by the wave theory of light if and only if light was entirely transverse, with no longitudinal vibration whatsoever. The weakness of the wave theory was that light waves, like sound waves, would need a medium for transmission. The existence of the hypothetical substance luminiferous aether proposed by Huygens in 1678 was cast into strong doubt in the late nineteenth century by the Michelson–Morley experiment. Newton's corpuscular theory implied that light would travel faster in a denser medium, while the wave theory of Huygens and others implied the opposite. At that time, the speed of light could not be measured accurately enough to decide which theory was correct. The first to make a sufficiently accurate measurement was
Léon Foucault Jean Bernard Léon Foucault ( , , ; 18 September 1819 – 11 February 1868) was a French physicist A physicist is a scientist A scientist is a person who conducts Scientific method, scientific research to advance knowledge in an Branches of ...
, in 1850. His result supported the wave theory and the classical particle theory was finally abandoned, only to partly re-emerge in the 20th century.


Electromagnetic theory

In 1845, Michael Faraday discovered that the plane of polarization of linearly polarized light is rotated when the light rays travel along the magnetic field direction in the presence of a transparent dielectric, an effect now known as Faraday rotation. This was the first evidence that light was related to electromagnetism. In 1846 he speculated that light might be some form of disturbance propagating along magnetic field lines. Faraday proposed in 1847 that light was a high-frequency electromagnetic vibration, which could propagate even in the absence of a medium such as the ether. Faraday's work inspired James Clerk Maxwell to study electromagnetic radiation and light. Maxwell discovered that self-propagating electromagnetic waves would travel through space at a constant speed, which happened to be equal to the previously measured speed of light. From this, Maxwell concluded that light was a form of electromagnetic radiation: he first stated this result in 1862 in ''On Physical Lines of Force''. In 1873, he published ''A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism'', which contained a full mathematical description of the behavior of electric and magnetic fields, still known as Maxwell's equations. Soon after, Heinrich Hertz confirmed Maxwell's theory experimentally by generating and detecting radio waves in the laboratory and demonstrating that these waves behaved exactly like visible light, exhibiting properties such as reflection, refraction, diffraction and Wave interference, interference. Maxwell's theory and Hertz's experiments led directly to the development of modern radio, radar, television, electromagnetic imaging and wireless communications. In the quantum theory, photons are seen as wave packets of the waves described in the classical theory of Maxwell. The quantum theory was needed to explain effects even with visual light that Maxwell's classical theory could not (such as spectral lines).


Quantum theory

In 1900 Max Planck, attempting to explain black-body radiation, suggested that although light was a wave, these waves could gain or lose energy only in finite amounts related to their frequency. Planck called these "lumps" of light energy "" (from a Latin word for "how much"). In 1905, Albert Einstein used the idea of light quanta to explain the photoelectric effect and suggested that these light quanta had a "real" existence. In 1923 Arthur Holly Compton showed that the wavelength shift seen when low intensity X-rays scattered from electrons (so called Compton scattering) could be explained by a particle-theory of X-rays, but not a wave theory. In 1926 Gilbert N. Lewis named these light quanta particles
photon The photon ( el, φῶς, phōs, light) is a type of elementary particle In , an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a that is not composed of other particles. Particles currently thought to be elementary include the fundamental s ...

photon
s. Eventually the modern theory of quantum mechanics came to picture light as (in some sense) ''both'' a particle and a wave and (in another sense), as a phenomenon which is ''neither'' a particle nor a wave (which actually are macroscopic phenomena, such as baseballs or ocean waves). Instead, modern physics sees light as something that can be described sometimes with mathematics appropriate to one type of macroscopic metaphor (particles) and sometimes another macroscopic metaphor (water waves), but is actually something that cannot be fully imagined. As in the case for radio waves and the X-rays involved in Compton scattering, physicists have noted that electromagnetic radiation tends to behave more like a classical wave at lower frequencies, but more like a classical particle at higher frequencies, but never completely loses all qualities of one or the other. Visible light, which occupies a middle ground in frequency, can easily be shown in experiments to be describable using either a wave or particle model, or sometimes both. In February 2018, scientists reported, for the first time, the discovery of a new form of light, which may involve polaritons, that could be useful in the development of quantum computers.


Use for light on Earth

Sunlight provides the energy that green plants use to create sugars mostly in the form of starches, which release energy into the living things that digest them. This process of photosynthesis provides virtually all the energy used by living things. Some species of animals generate their own light, a process called
bioluminescence Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism. It is a form of chemiluminescence. Bioluminescence occurs widely in marine vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as in some Fungus , fungi, microorganisms includ ...
. For example, fireflies use light to locate mates and vampire squid use it to hide themselves from prey.


See also

* Automotive lighting * Ballistic photon * Color temperature * Fermat's principle * Huygens' principle * ''Journal of Luminescence'' * Light art * Light beam – in particular about light beams visible from the side * Light Fantastic (TV series), ''Light Fantastic'' (TV series) * Light mill * Light painting * Light pollution * Light therapy * Lighting * List of light sources * ''Luminescence: The Journal of Biological and Chemical Luminescence'' * Photic sneeze reflex * Right to light * Risks and benefits of sun exposure * Spectroscopy


Notes


References


External links

* {{Authority control Light, Radiation