Electromagnetic Spectrum

by Quyen Le

Electromagnetic Waves

Electromagnetic energy is all around you. We use this spectrum of energy in our everyday life without even knowing it. Whenever you listen to your favorite songs on the radio or get an x-ray at your doctor's office after breaking a bone, this spectrum of different radiations that can or can not be visible to the human eye will be used. These waves are produced by a vibrating electric charge and they consist of both an an electric and a magnetic component. Also, they don't need to travel through a medium and are capable of passing through a vacuum instead. All the electromagnetic waves travel at the same speed through a vacuum instead of the mediums for mechanical waves where they will change speed depending on the material. The spectrum consists of radiowaves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, x-rays, and gamma rays. However, we are only able to see the visible light part of the spectrum to help us see the different bursts of color in our everyday life.

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Radio Waves

It’s as the name says, these waves are the waves that are emitted from your local radio stations that bring you your daily source of music. They are the longest waves, being as long as about 1 mm, which means they have the lowest energy and frequency. These waves can also be sent out by stars and gases in space, but they are typically used as television signals.


Even though these waves might be used to heat up leftovers or cook your lunch, microwaves can also be used by astronomers to learn about the structures of nearby galaxies and even to communicate with satellites in space.. However, they can also be used to transmit certain signals like the signals we need to call other people on our cell phones.


This radiation can be felt by humans in the form of heat being absorbed by our skin. In fact, this is how night vision goggles can see humans in pitch black because they pop up bright red because of the body heat. Their wavelengths range from 710 nanometers to 1 meter. Our body can give off infrared wavelengths of body heat up to an intensity of 900 nm.

Visible Light

Light is everywhere, it’s even the reason we humans can see. This light contains wavelengths that can range anywhere from 400 nanometers to 700 nanometers. Without this spectrum of light, we wouldn’t be able to see all the colors and objects in front of us. Even fireflies, light bulbs, and stars all emit light so we can see their brightness in the darkest of areas.


This radiation has wavelengths that range from 10 to 310 nanometers. Younger stars such as the sun, are the ones that have this type of radiation. It’s the reason we have sunburns and tans when we go out to the beach on a hot and sunny day and sit on the sand. This type of radiation is often found in space because of all the different stars and “hot” objects that float around.


X-rays’ wavelengths are about the size of an atom. They can be anywhere from 0.01 - 10 nanometers and their radiation can go up to the highest of temperatures. Although, they can also be used at your doctor’s office to see any broken bones or cavities in your teeth. Even airports use this part of the EM Spectrum! Without x-rays, we wouldn’t have high advanced technology at airports to make sure no weapons or drugs can get onto the plane.

Gamma Ray

Gamma radiation has the highest frequency and the shortest wavelength. It’s often used to try to kill off cancer cells in radiation therapy. This radiation can come about from nuclear incidents and even in space with black holes. In medical instances, it can be used by professional doctors to see inside your body.