|SPACE TODAY ONLINE COVERING SPACE FROM EARTH TO THE EDGE OF THE UNIVERSE|
|COVER||SOLAR SYSTEM||DEEP SPACE||SHUTTLES||STATIONS||ASTRONAUTS||SATELLITES||ROCKETS||HISTORY||GLOBAL LINKS||SEARCH|
What is the
The electromagnetic spectrum is a vast band of energy frequencies extending from radio waves to gamma waves, from the very lowest frequencies to the highest possible frequencies.
The spectrum is arranged by the frequency of its waves, from the longest, lowest energy waves to the shortest, highest energy waves.
Our ability to tune in the more exotic electromagnetic waves has grown in recent decades. For instance, radio is part of the spectrum, and it was only in the 20th Century that humans began to be able to use any of the electromagnetic spectrum, starting with radio at the long-wave end of the spectrum.
Today, living and working in the 21st century, we make great use of the electromagnetic spectrum in all of our vocations and avocations. All of the frequencies we use for transmitting and receiving energy are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. For instance:
- RADIO. We use the radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum for many things, including television and radio broadcasting, telephones and other wireless communications, navigation and radar for a variety of measurements including police speed traps, and even microwave cooking ovens.
Our AM broadcast stations transmit signals in what is referred to as the medium-wave portion of the spectrum. FM music stations use very high frequency (VHF) transmitters. Television stations use the VHF and ultra high frequency (UHF) regions of the spectrum.
Where are AM and FM radio signals? » What is VHF and UHF? »
- INFRARED LIGHT. Infrared light is on the spectrum at frequencies above radio and just below the range of human vision. Infrared light is heat. Three-quarters of the radiation emitted by a light-bulb is IR. We use infrared transmitters to remotely control our TV sets. We can record infrared light on photographic film and we have equipment that can see hot bodies in deep space in the infrared light they send out.
- VISIBLE LIGHT. Visible light, which we receive with our eyes, is along the spectrum between infrared and ultraviolet light, which we can't see. Of course, we can collect visible light with photographic film.
- ULTRAVIOLET LIGHT. On the spectrum, ultraviolet light is above visible light. UV is dangerous to living organisms. So, it is used to sterilize medical instruments by killing bacteria and viruses. We have photographic film that can capture ultraviolet light. Ten percent of the energy radiated by our star, the Sun, is ultraviolet light.
- X-RAYS. Farther along the spectrum are X-rays. Their invisible energy is produced when gas is heated to millions of degrees. X-ray energy is absorbed by matter it penetrates depending upon the atomic weight of that matter. Because X-rays can change a photographic emulsion just as visible light does, we use them to take pictures of the insides of people and things.
- GAMMA RAYS. Gamma rays are beyond X-rays on the electromagnetic spectrum. Gamma rays that we find arriving at Earth from deep space are the result of violent cosmic events such as supernovas, other nuclear explosions, and radioactive decay. Earth's atmosphere shields life on the surface from gamma rays.
What are frequencies, wavelengths and the energy spectrum?
It's all about waves. A wave is a disturbance traveling through space, transferring energy from one point to the next without permanently changing space itself. Physicists have depicted a wave graphically as the passage of such a disturbance over time. sine wave graphic »
Frequency. The rate of change in the wave is its frequency. Notice in the graphic at right how the wave undulates up and down from peaks to valleys to peaks. The time from one peak to the next peak is one cycle. A single unit of frequency is equal to one cycle per second.
Hertz. Scientists refer to a single cycle as one Hertz, which commemorates 19th century German physicist Heinrich Hertz whose discovery of electromagnetic waves led to the development of radio.
Sine waves have frequency. A sine wave is a deviating waveform expressed graphically as a sine curve. The succession of green curves undulating in the blue graphic above right depict a sine wave. The frequency of a sine wave is the number of times it oscillates up and down per second.
Spectrum. Physicists see energy undulating at various rates. They describe the complete range of possible cycle times as a spectrum of energy.
Electromagnetic. Magnetism is produced by an electric charge in motion. Electromagnetism is the physics of electricity and magnetism. Charges of electrical energy in motion are said to be electromagnetic.
Electromagnetic spectrum. Thus, the complete range of potential energy cycles is the electromagnetic spectrum.
Deep Space Sensors
Only recently have we been able to make radio receivers and sensors, covering the UHF to gamma ray part of the electromagnetic spectrum, small enough and sensitive enough to send to space as part of orbiting telescopes.
Hubble Space Telescope sees visible light » Chandra X-Ray Observatory detects x-rays » Spitzer Space Telescope sees infrared light » Compton Gama Ray Observatory detected gamma rays »
more about spectrometers »
NASA developed its set of four Great Observatories In Space to extend mankind's knowledge of astronomy and life itself. Each observatory has had its own specialized instruments to gather data from its assigned part of the electromagnetic spectrum.
More About Radio
We use a small segment of the electromagnetic spectrum to transmit the programmed energy that we refer to as RADIO.
Suppose you are driving and listening to a talk show coming from a station at 870 on the car radio's AM dial. The radio is tuned to a specific sine wave with a frequency of 870,000 Hertz (cycles per second).
You tire of talk and decide to switch to music on a station at 103.9 on the radio's FM dial. You tune to a sine wave being transmitted at 103,900,000 Hertz (cycles per second).
In the United States, popular radio signals are AM transmitted in the frequency range of 530-1700 kHz and FM in the frequency range of 88-108 MHz.
Some Specific Frequencies
atomic clocks 60 kHz professional
0.500-2000 MHz AM radio 0.535-1.7 MHz shortwave radio 3-30 MHz WWV time 2.5 MHz
CHU time 3.330 MHz
CB radio 27 MHz baby monitor 49 MHz surveillance tracking radios 50-1300 MHz cordless phones 49 MHz
TV channel 2-6 54-88 MHz radio-control planes 72 MHz radio-control cars 75 MHz FM radio 88-108 MHz TV channel 7-13 174-220 MHz wildlife tracking collars 215 Mhz cell phone 800 MHz
video transmitter 902 MHz
air traffic control radar 960 MHz
GPS 1227 MHz
deep space radio 2300 MHz radar gun x-band 10.525 GHz 1 cycle per second = 1 hertz (Hz)
1,000 hertz = 1 kilohertz (kHz)
1,000 kilohertz = 1 megahertz (MHz) = 1 million hertz
1,000 megahertz = 1 million kilohertz = 1 gigahertz (GHz) = 1 billion hertz
Bands of Frequencies Band Frequency VLF Very Low Frequency 3-30 kHz LF Low Frequency 30-300 kHz MF Medium Frequency 300-3000kHz HF High Frequency 3-30 MHz VHF Very High Frequency 30-300 MHz UHF Ultra High Frequency 300-3000 MHz SHF Super High Frequency 3-30 GHz EHF Extremely High Frequency 30-300 GHz
Converting Frequency and Wavelength Frequency in megahertz X wavelength in meters = 300
Frequency in kilohertz X wavelength in meters = 300,000
Frequency and Wavelength of Energy in the Electromagnetic Spectrum Energy Frequency in hertz Wavelength in meters gamma-rays 1020-1024 <10-12 m x-rays 1017-1020 1 nm-1 pm ultraviolet 1015-1017 400 nm-1 nm visible 4-7.5x1014 750 nm-400 nm near-infrared 1x1014-4x1014 2.5 um-750 nm infrared 1013-1014 25 um-2.5 um microwaves 3x1011-1013 1 mm-25 um radio waves <3x1011 >1 mm
Space telescopes: Spitzer Chandra Hubble Compton Telescopes Deep Space Great Observatories Space Today Online: Search STO About STO STO Cover Questions Suggestions Feedback
© 2004 Space Today Online