Facts about Sunlight

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This diagram introduces sunlight, the light produced by the Sun, the star at the centre of our solar system.


It gathers together some useful facts and introduces some important terms that you can check out in the next section.

Remember that:

Description

Facts about Sunlight

Facts about Sunlight

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Sunshine is important to human beings because without light we can't see.
Our eyes respond so well to sunlight because of its intensity and because it contains all wavelengths of visible light.
Sunlight can be described in terms of both waves and particles.
Other names for sunlight include daylight, sunshine, visible light, light and electromagnetic radiation!

About the diagram

About the diagram
  • This diagram introduces sunlight, the light produced by the Sun, the star at the centre of our solar system.
  • It gathers together some useful facts and introduces some important terms concerning the Sun and the electromagnetic radiation it emits.
Remember that:
  • As the Sun explodes with the force of a billion one-megaton nuclear bombs every second it gives off electromagnetic radiation.
  • Sunlight is a form of electromagnetic radiation.
  • The electromagnetic radiation given off by the sun includes all wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • By the time sunlight has passed through the atmosphere and reaches the ground it contains infrared, visible, and ultraviolet wavelengths of light.
  • Viewed from the ground, sunlight contains only a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • Viewed from outer space, sunlight contains the whole of the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • Without sunlight, life as we know it would not be possible because it carries the energy that plants need to grow and the heat that keeps the world warm.

Some key terms

Electromagnetic radiation refers to the transfer of all forms of radiation through space by electromagnetic waves.

  • Electromagnetic radiation includes gamma rays, ultraviolet (UV), infrared (IR), X-rays, and radio waves, as well as visible light.
  • Detached from its source, electromagnetic radiation (EM radiation), is transported by electromagnetic waves (or their quanta, photons) and propagates through empty space at the speed of light.
  • Man-made technologies that produce electromagnetic radiation include radio and TV transmitters, radar, MRI scanners, microwave ovens, computer screens, mobile phones, all types of lights and lamps, electric blankets, electric bar heaters, lasers and x-ray machines.

Solar radiation is the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the sun.

  • Electromagnetic radiation is a type of energy that is commonly known as light. Detached from its source, it is transported by electromagnetic waves (or by their quanta, particles called photons) and propagates through space.
  • Electromagnetic radiation includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared, (visible) light, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays.
  • Electromagnetic radiation is sometimes called EM radiation or electromagnetic radiant energy (EMR).
  • All forms of electromagnetic radiation can be described in terms of both waves or particles.
  • All forms of electromagnetic radiation travel at 299,792 kilometres per second in a vacuum.

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.

Light is electromagnetic radiation (radiant energy), which, detached from its source, is transported by electromagnetic waves (or their quanta, photons) and propagates through space. Even if humans had never evolved, electromagnetic radiation would have been emitted by stars since the formation of the first galaxies over 13 billion years ago.

  • Simply stated, light is energy. Light is the way energy travels through space.
  • Whilst the term light can be used to refer to the whole of the electromagnetic spectrum, visible light refers to the small range of wavelengths that our eyes are tuned to.
  • 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. When this meaning is intended, the terms radiant energy or photon energy are placed in brackets after the term light in this resource.
  • 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 also be used to mean the range of wavelengths and frequencies between infra-red and ultra-violet. This usage is sometimes useful because the outer limits of the visible spectrum can differ under different lighting conditions and for different individuals.

The electromagnetic spectrum includes electromagnetic waves with all possible wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation, ranging from low energy radio waves through visible light to high energy gamma rays.

  • There are no precisely defined boundaries between the bands of electromagnetic radiation in the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • 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.
  • Visible light is only a very small part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

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