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Thursday, November 23, 2006

I'm thankful for the electromagnetic spectrum

I'm thankful for the electromagnetic spectrum. The what? you say. The electromagnetic spectrum. You read correctly.

So what is this? The electromagnetic spectrum is one of the types of energy. Instances of this type of energy can be thought of as little energy vibrations. They all belong to a family, as the different notes on a piano keyboard belong to one family. When sounded, each piano note is different, but they are all very much alike, sounds, vibrations of a certain type. (Sounds are a different sort of vibration from the vibrations of the electromagnetic spectrum). Sounds differ from one another in their frequency and wave length. High pitched sounds have a high frequency and a small wave length. Low pitched sounds have a low frequency and a large wave length. But all sounds are very similar, part of the same family. The members of the electromagnetic spectrum are like that. They are very similar, differing in their wave lengths and frequencies. (They, and sounds, also differ within the two families in the amount of energy they have.) The energy of the electromagnetic spectrum travels at the velocity of light, c in Einstein's famous e = m times c squared equation.

So why should I be thankful for the vibrations of the electromagnetic spectrum? Because I wouldn't be here without them, and neither would you. How so? Well, let me list some of the members of this large family. It includes, at the very small wave length, high frequency, and high energy end, gamma rays. Then, as wave length increases, and the frequency and energy decrease, X rays, ultraviolet rays, light, infrared/heat, and all of the radio waves. The range is enormous. Gamma rays have wave lengths on the order of a trillionth of a meter, and the radio waves can have lengths as long as 10 million meters. (We don't use those for ordinary communications.) As the Wikipedia article on this subject puts it: "In our universe the short wavelength limit is likely to be the Planck length, and the long wavelength limit is the size of the universe itself (see physical cosmology), though in principle the spectrum is infinite."

Okay, so there is a tremendous family of energy. So why is this important? There are many reasons, dear reader, but I will mention one as of most importance. Our earth gets most of its available energy from the sun, carried here by light, which is part of the electromagnetic spectrum. This light keeps the earth from being a frozen ball of rock and ice. It fuels photosynthesis, the process by which plants turn water and Carbon Dioxide into food. It powers the water cycle. It makes it possible for those of us blessed with eyesight to see the world around us. If there were no electromagnetic spectrum, we wouldn't be here. Because there is an electromagnetic spectrum, we are.

In case you are wondering how we can be heated by light, the energy in light is absorbed by matter. This absorption of energy heats things up. Objects so heated can, then, give off heat in other ways.

Besides the critical energy we get from the sun, I'd like to mention two other aspects of the electromagnetic spectrum. One is color (See also here). God didn't have to create light at all, I guess, and when He did, it didn't have to be colored. But it is. Without that part of the electromagnetic spectrum, light, we wouldn't see color in flowers, in babies, in great art, in the sky, the grass, and sidewalks. (I know -- some of us can't see color, and some can't see at all. But most of us can do both, and take it entirely too much for granted.) The second aspect is just that we (and many animals) can see at all. I take this too much for granted. There are many other reasons that the electromagnetic spectrum is important, in industry, in medicine, in communications, and elsewhere, but that will do.

Lest there be any doubt, I'm thankful to God for the electromagnetic spectrum. Although I can't prove it, I believe that God designed the universe to include it, and I'm glad He did.

Here's a post on Biblical references to light.

By the way, I'm also thankful for the Wikipedia, and for Rebecca, who suggesting that November be a month of blogger gratitude emphasis. I also thank you, my readers. I am posting this on November 23, 2006, Thanksgiving Day in the United States. For what it's worth, Rebecca is a Canadian. Here is another post expressing my gratitude for a number of things, here's one, expressing my gratitude for cell division, and here is one expressing my gratitude for Carbon atoms.


lingamish said...

This post is terrific. There are so many reasons to give thanks to our Creator. That thing about one of the wave lengths being as large as the whole universe... whoa!

Martin LaBar said...

Yes, that does give one pause!