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Electromagnetic Spectrum

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A mnemonic device to help you remember the sequence of electromagnetic radiation from longest wavelength to shortest wavelength:  Radio, microwave, infrared, visible, ultraviolet, x-ray, gamma ray.


freq_wavelength wave energy

The following information has been sourced from:

Electromagnetic Spectrum

Measuring the electromagnetic spectrum

You actually know more about it than you may think! The electromagnetic (EM) spectrum is just a name that scientists give a bunch of types of radiation when they want to talk about them as a group. Radiation is energy that travels and spreads out as it goes– visible light that comes from a lamp in your house and radio waves that come from a radio station are two types of electromagnetic radiation. Other examples of EM radiation are microwaves, infrared and ultraviolet light, X-rays and gamma-rays. Hotter, more energetic objects and events create higher energy radiation than cool objects. Only extremely hot objects or particles moving at very high velocities can create high-energy radiation like X-rays and gamma-rays.

Here are the different types of radiation in the EM spectrum, in order from lowest energy to highest:

Radio: Yes, this is the same kind of energy that radio stations emit into the air for your boom box to capture and turn into your favorite Mozart, Madonna, or Justin Timberlake tunes. But radio waves are also emitted by other things … such as stars and gases in space. You may not be able to dance to what these objects emit, but you can use it to learn what they are made of.

Microwaves: They will cook your popcorn in just a few minutes! Microwaves in space are used by astronomers to learn about the structure of nearby galaxies, and our own Milky Way!

Infrared: Our skin emits infrared light, which is why we can be seen in the dark by someone using night vision goggles. In space, IR light maps the dust between stars.

Visible: Yes, this is the part that our eyes see. Visible radiation is emitted by everything from fireflies to light bulbs to stars … also by fast-moving particles hitting other particles.

Ultraviolet: We know that the Sun is a source of ultraviolet (or UV) radiation, because it is the UV rays that cause our skin to burn! Stars and other “hot” objects in space emit UV radiation.

X-rays: Your doctor uses them to look at your bones and your dentist to look at your teeth. Hot gases in the Universe also emit X-rays.

Gamma-rays: Radioactive materials (some natural and others made by man in things like nuclear power plants) can emit gamma-rays. Big particle accelerators that scientists use to help them understand what matter is made of can sometimes generate gamma-rays. But the biggest gamma-ray generator of all is the Universe! It makes gamma radiation in all kinds of ways.


Electromagnetic Spectrum:  The full range of frequencies, from radio waves to gamma rays, that characterizes light.

Electromagnetic Radiation:  Another term for light. Light waves are fluctuations of electric and magnetic fields in space.

Radio Waves:  Electromagnetic radiation which has the lowest frequency, the longest wavelength, and is produced by charged particles moving back and forth; the atmosphere of the Earth is transparent to radio waves with wavelengths from a few millimeters to about twenty meters.

Microwaves:  Electromagnetic radiation which has a longer wavelength (between 1 mm and 30 cm) than visible light. Microwaves can be used to study the Universe, communicate with satellites in Earth orbit, and cook popcorn.

Infrared Radiation:  Electromagnetic radiation at wavelengths longer than the red end of visible light and shorter than microwaves (roughly between 1 and 100 microns). Almost none of the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum can reach the surface of the Earth, although some portions can be observed by high-altitude aircraft (such as the Kuiper Observatory) or telescopes on high mountaintops (such as the peak of Mauna Kea in Hawaii).

Visible Light:  Electromagnetic radiation at wavelengths which the human eye can see. We perceive this radiation as colors ranging from red (longer wavelengths; ~ 700 nanometers) to violet (shorter wavelengths; ~400 nanometers.)

Ultraviolet Radiation:  Electromagnetic radiation at wavelengths shorter than the violet end of visible light; the atmosphere of the Earth effectively blocks the transmission of most ultraviolet light.

X-Rays:  Electromagnetic radiation of very short wavelength and very high-energy; X-rays have shorter wavelengths than ultraviolet light but longer wavelengths than gamma rays.

Gamma Rays:  The highest energy, shortest wavelength electromagnetic radiations. Usually, they are thought of as any photons having energies greater than about 100 keV. (It’s “gamma-ray” when used as an adjective.)

Frequency:  A property of a wave that describes how many wave patterns or cycles pass by in a period of time. Frequency is often measured in Hertz (Hz), where a wave with a frequency of 1 Hz will pass by at 1 cycle per second.

Wavelength:  The distance between adjacent peaks in a series of periodic waves.

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