Light, form of energy visible to the human eye that is radiated by moving charged particles. Light from the Sun provides the energy needed for plant growth. Plants convert the energy in sunlight into storable chemical form through a process called photosynthesis. Petroleum, coal, and natural gas are the remains of plants that lived millions of years ago, and the energy these fuels release when they burn is the chemical energy converted from sunlight. When animals digest the plants and animals they eat, they also release energy stored by photosynthesis.
Scientists have learned through experimentation that light behaves like a particle at times and like a wave at other times. The particle-like features are called photons. Photons are different from particles of matter in that they have no mass and always move at the constant speed of about 300,000 km/sec (186,000 mi/sec) when they are in a vacuum. When light diffracts, or bends slightly as it passes around a corner, it shows wavelike behavior. The waves associated with light are called electromagnetic waves because they consist of changing electric and magnetic fields. II | | THE NATURE OF LIGHT |
To understand the nature of light and how it is normally created, it is necessary to study matter at its atomic level. Atoms are the building blocks of matter, and the motion of one of their constituents, the electron, leads to the emission of light in most sources. A | | Light Emission |
Light Absorption and Emission
When a photon, or packet of light energy, is absorbed by an atom, the atom gains the energy of the photon, and one of the atom’s electrons may jump to a higher energy level. The atom is then said to be excited. When an electron of an excited atom falls to a lower energy level, the atom may emit the electron’s excess energy in the form of a photon. The energy levels, or orbitals, of the atoms shown here have been greatly simplified to illustrate these absorption and