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The Wave Nature of Light

The Wave Nature of Light - The Wave Nature of Light 1...

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The Wave Nature of Light 1. Unlike other branches of science, astronomers cannot touch or do field work on their samples. The only information that we have is from the light that is imaged by our telescopes. Fortunately, light contains a wealth of physical information about the Universe. 2. Light can be viewed as a traveling wave (like an ocean wave). It is made up of electric & magnetic fields so light is referred to as electromagnetic radiation . 3. The wavelength is the distance between wave crests (units are length). For optical light, a shorthand notation of angstroms (Å ) is used such that 1 Å =10^-10 meters. So, visible wavelength light is about 5000 Å. 4. frequency = the number of wave crests that pass by a detector per second of time. The units are Hertz (Hz), where 1 Hz is 1 cycle/sec. A typical radio frequency is 100 MHz (where MHz is a million Hz). 5. Light travels very fast at c=3X10^5 km/sec. This speed is constant throughout space for all wavelengths. The Electromagnetic Spectrum In the visible, the rainbow of colors make up the spectrum. Color is the same as wavelength. Blue light has the shortest wavelength and red light has the longest. The only difference between various parts of the electromagnetic spectrum (such as radio and x-rays) is the wavelength. In order of increasing wavelength: gamma-rays, x-rays, ultraviolet, visible, infrared, and radio. Gamma-rays have wavelengths <1 Å and radio waves have wavelengths of meters. The atmosphere is mostly opaque to the electromagnetic spectrum. Only visible and radio waves easily penetrate the atmosphere with a bit of ultraviolet & infrared as well. This means ground-based telescopes operate in the visible & the radio, whereas space- based telescopes (above the atmosphere) function at other wavelengths. The Doppler Effect The Doppler Effect is the shift of the wavelength of light produced by motion of an object toward or away from us. We experience a similar effect with sound when a train approaches us & then moves away from us - the pitch or the wavelength of the sound changes. The change in the wavelength between that observed for a moving object and that measured when the light source is at rest is directly proportional to the wavelength. For stars moving away from us, the wavelength change is toward the red and is called a redshift . For stars moving toward us, it is a blueshift. The Doppler Effect provides astronomers with a powerful tool for measuring radial velocities of planets, stars, & galaxies. All we need to do is measure the difference between the observed wavelength and the wavelength measured in the laboratory. The Inverse Square Law 1. When we look at the night sky, we see that all stars are not the same color or brightness. Brightness is the amount of energy per second per area that falls on a detector such as a photographic plate or on the retina of our eyes. Brightness depends upon two factors: The total energy per second or luminosity emitted by a star or other object. For example, a 200 Watt light bulb appears brighter than a 100 Watt light bulb if they are side by side.
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