Electromagnetic Spectrum

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This diagram shows that the electromagnetic spectrum includes waves with all possible wavelengths, ranging from low energy radio waves through visible light to high energy gamma rays.

  • Notice that a wave with a longer wavelength has a lower frequency and carries less energy.
  • Notice that a wave with a shorter wavelength has a higher frequency and carries more energy.

Remember that:

Description

Electromagnetic spectrum

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About the diagram

About the diagram
  • This diagram shows that the electromagnetic spectrum includes waves with all possible wavelengths, ranging from low energy radio waves through visible light to high energy gamma rays.
  • Notice that a wave with a longer wavelength has a lower frequency and carries less energy.
  • Notice that a wave with a shorter wavelength has a higher frequency and carries more energy.
Remember that:
  • The electromagnetic spectrum includes, in order of increasing frequency and decreasing wavelength: radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, visible light, ultraviolet radiation, X-rays and gamma rays.
  • There are no precisely defined boundaries between the bands of electromagnetic radiation in the electromagnetic spectrum. Each band is associated with different properties and applications – think of radios, microwaves, x-ray machines etc.
  • Visible light is only a very small part of the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • Energy (electromagnetic energy) is the radiant energy (light) transported by electromagnetic waves.
  • The term light can be used in three different ways:
    • Light can be used to mean the whole of the electromagnetic spectrum from radio waves, through visible light to gamma rays. A better term is radiant energy or photon energy.
    • Light can be used to mean the range of wavelengths and frequencies that can be detected by the human eye. A better term is visible light which refers to the wavelengths that correspond with the colours between red and violet, the visible spectrum.
    • Light can be used to mean the range of wavelengths and frequencies between infra-red and ultra-violet. This usage is useful because the outer limits of the visible spectrum change under different lighting conditions and for different individuals.
  • Referring to visible light simply as light is short-hand.
  • Visible light is not the same for all living things.

Some key terms

The frequency of electromagnetic radiation (light) refers to the number of wave-cycles of an electromagnetic wave that pass a given point in a given amount of time.

Energy is a property of matter.

  • Everything contains energy including all forms of matter and so all objects.
  • Energy is evident in all forms of movement, interactions between, and changes to the forms and properties of matter.
  • At an atomic level, energy is evident in the movement of electrons around the nucleus of an atom. Energy is stored in the nucleus of atoms as a result of the forces that bind protons and neutrons together.
  • Energy can be transferred between objects, and converted from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed.
  • Everything in the universe uses energy in one form or another.
  • When it comes down to it, matter is energy.
  • Light has energy but no mass so does not occupy space and has no volume.
  • Energy is often described as either being potential energy or kinetic energy.
  • Energy is measured in joules.

The hertz (symbol: Hz) is a unit used to measure the frequency of electromagnetic waves.

    • 1 Hertz (Hz) = 1 cycle per second
    • 1 Kilohertz (kHz) = 1,000 (thousand) cycles per second
    • 1 Megahertz (MHz) = 1,000,000 (million) cycles per second
    • 1 Gigahertz (GHz) = 1,000,000,000 (billion) cycles per second
    • 1 Terahertz (THz) = 1,000,000,000,000 (trillion )cycles per second

An electronvolt is a unit of energy commonly used to measure the energy carried by electromagnetic radiation.

  • Electronvolts can be used for measurements at the scale of elementary particles as small as single photons, the quantum of the electromagnetic field.
  • One electronvolt is the amount of energy that a single electron has when it is accelerated by a potential difference of 1 volt.
  • If there is a difference in voltage of 1 volt between two points in an electrical circuit (within a capacitor for example) then the force required (and the energy gained) by a photon accelerating from one point to the other is 1 electronvolt.

Wavelength is a measurement from any point on the path of a wave to the same point on its next oscillation. The measurement is made parallel to the centre-line of the wave.

A nanometre is a unit of measurement of the wavelength of electromagnetic radiation.

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