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Explanation of Electromagnetic Spectrum by Ron Kurtus - Succeed in Understanding Physics. Key words: frequency, wavelength, speed of light, electrical charges, lambda, radio, television, radar, microwave, infrared, visible, ultraviolet, x-ray, gamma ray, ROY G BIV, physical science, School for Champions. Copyright © Restrictions

Electromagnetic Spectrum

by Ron Kurtus (revised 14 November 2012)

The electromagnetic spectrum is the range of frequencies or wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. It includes x-rays, visible light, microwaves and television waves.

The rate of oscillating movement of electrical charges determines the frequency of electromagnetic radiation. A simple equation shows the relationship between frequency and wavelength. The full electromagnetic spectrum shows an enormous range of frequencies. An important part of that range is the visible light spectrum.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions. Useful tool: Units Conversion



Creation of electromagnetic waves

Electromagnetic waves are created by the acceleration or oscillation of electrical charges, such as the movement of electrons. In AC electricity, electrons move back-and-forth in a wire at a relatively slow rate. In radio and microwave devices, circuitry oscillate the electrons at a much higher rate.

Molecules, atoms and free electrons move about rapidly when heated to high temperatures. Also electrons accelerate when jumping from one electron level to another. Finally, collisions of high energy electrons result in the creation of x-rays.

The relationship between frequency of the electromagnetic wave and its wavelength comes from the equation:

c = fλ

where

That equation can be rewritten as f = c/λ or λ = c/f, depending on which variable you want to find.

Spectrum of frequencies

The frequency of electromagnetic waves ranges from less than 50 Hz, which to beyond 1019 Hz.

Note: Hz (Hertz) indicates the number of cycles per second of the waveform. Also, 1019 is 1 followed by 19 zeros

The wavelength of electromagnetic waves ranges from over 6000 km to 1 Å (Angstrom).

Note: 1 km is 1*103 m and 1 Å is 1*10−10 m (1/1010 m)

(See Units of Frequencies and Wavelengths for more information.)

The electromagnetic spectrum can be represented by the following table:

Application Approximate frequency
range
Approximate wavelength
range
AC electricity 50-60 Hz 6000-5000 km
AM radio 106 Hz 300 m
FM radio and TV 108 Hz (100 MHz) 3 m
Radar 1010 Hz 3 cm
Microwaves

1011 Hz

3 mm
Infrared 3*1011 - 4*1014 Hz 1 mm - 700 nm
Visible light 4*1014 - 7.5*1014 Hz 700 - 400 nm
Ultraviolet 1016 Hz 400 nm - 10 nm
X-rays 1018 Hz 10 nm - 0.1 nm
Gamma rays 1019 Hz 0.03 nm

Visible spectrum

The colors of the visible spectrum are in the order of the "name" ROY G BIV (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet). The illustration below shows the colors of the visible spectrum and their approximate wavelengths.

 

Visible spectrum with wavelengths

Visible spectrum with wavelengths

The colors aren't evenly spaced because the bands of each colors varies. For example, the green colors cover a wider area than does indigo, which really could be considered violet.

Summary

The electromagnetic spectrum is the range of frequencies or wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation, including x-rays, visible light, microwaves and television waves. The rate of oscillation of electrical charges determines the frequency of the radiation. A simple equation shows the relationship between frequency and wavelength. The full electromagnetic spectrum shows an enormous range of frequencies. An important part of that range is the visible light spectrum.


Science is amazing when you look at it


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