Friday, September 10, 2010

Introduction to Light - NASA

Light is a form of radiant energy or energy that travels in waves. Since Greek times, scientists have  debated the nature of light. Physicists now recognize that light sometimes behaves like waves and, at other times, like particles. When moving from place to place, light acts like a system of waves. In empty space, light has a fixed speed and the wavelength can be measured. In the past 300 years,
scientists have improved the way they measure the speed of light, and they have determined that it travels at nearly 299,792 kilometers, or 186,281 miles, per second.
When we talk about light, we usually mean any radiation that we can see. These wavelengths range from about 16/1,000,000 of an inch to 32/1,000,000 of an inch. There are other kinds of radiation such as ultraviolet light and infrared light, but their wavelengths are shorter or longer than the visible light wavelengths. When light hits some form of matter, it behaves in different ways. When it strikes an opaque object, it makes a shadow, but light does bend around obstacles. The bending of light
around edges or around small slits is called diffraction and makes patterns of bands or fringes.
All light can be traced to certain energy sources, like the Sun, an electric bulb, or a match, but most
of what hits the eye is reflected light. When light strikes some materials, it is bounced off or reflected. If the material is not opaque, the light goes through it at a slower speed, and it is bent or refracted. Some light is absorbed into the material and changed into other forms of energy, usually heat energy. The light waves make the electrons in the materials vibrate and this kinetic energy or movement energy makes heat. Friction of the moving electrons makes heat.

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