December 5, 2023

The different types of electromagnetic radiation: from radio waves to gamma rays

Image credits George James.

It lets you see or talk to a loved one in another corner of the world, and sometimes it french fries you from external area– its electro-magnetic radiation and its a truly nifty thing. Lets take a look at all the different kinds of electro-magnetic radiation and why they all are, in fact, the same thing.

What Is Electromagnetic Radiation?

At its core, electro-magnetic radiation (EMR) is a type of energy that travels through the vacuum of area at the speed of light. It is defined by its wavelength and frequency, and it can be described by the electromagnetic spectrum, which is a way of arranging different kinds of electromagnetic radiation based upon these homes.

The electro-magnetic spectrum is a large range of frequencies and wavelengths, and it consists of whatever from radio waves to gamma rays. Each kind of electro-magnetic radiation falls into a particular part of the spectrum, and each type has its own distinct residential or commercial properties and uses.

The types of electro-magnetic radiation consist of:

Since thats what makes particles vibrate, a source produces EM radiation when theres energy in the system. As a guideline of thumb, hotter bodies generate waves with more power and predominantly at higher frequencies. Frequency is measured in hertz (Hz), which is specified as one cycle per second. A frequency of one Hz means one wave is produced each second, one kHz suggests 1,000 waves are created per second, and one GHz corresponds to one billion per second.

This is the interval of electro-magnetic radiation that your eyes are tuned to pick up. We see different colors due to the fact that specific bits of this spectrum get taken in by objects, and the rest gets shown.

Ultraviolet radiation

And as lizard-lovers out there understand, infrared radiation is a great way to beam heat where its needed. In fact, thats exactly how people found IR. Back in 1800, an astronomer by the name of Sir William Herschel first explained IR radiation by observing its impacts on a thermometer.

radio waves

Theyre also useful in ovens. The same process that allows radio wave absorption to produce heat makes a 2.45 GHz (12cm) microwave very great at heating water. And considering that food constantly has at least some water, it suggests microwave are a nifty method to warm up food.

Radio waves

First is that you need a direct line of sight to the receiver, as microwaves dont flex (diffract) around hills or mountains, they dont reflect back from the ionosphere, or follow the worlds curvature as surface area waves. But they load more of a punch than radio waves and can pierce through a few of the things that radio cant– like thick clouds or dust– due to their greater frequency.

Color can also develop from the method light engages with a particular item. An objects texture is likewise created by much the same mechanism.

Radio waves are utilized for a range of functions, including tv and radio broadcasting, mobile phone interaction, and GPS navigation. They are likewise utilized in medical imaging and for identifying distant celestial things, such as stars and galaxies.

Type of Electromagnetic RadiationWavelength (m) Frequency (Hz) UsesRadio Waves1 mm to 100 km3 kHz to 300 GHzTelevision and radio broadcasting, cell phone communication, GPS navigation, medical imaging, discovering celestial objectsMicrowaves1 mm to 1 m300 MHz to 300 GHzCooking food, sending information, radar, medical treatments, studying material propertiesInfrared1 mm to 750 nm300 GHz to 430 THzThermal imaging, produced by warm objectsVisible Light750 nm to 400 nm430 THz to 750 THzSeeing colors, interaction, illuminationUltraviolet400 nm to 10 nm750 THz to 30 PHzSunburns, skin cancer, sanitation, treating materialsX-Rays10 nm to 0.01 nm30 PHz to 30 EHzMedical imaging, finding problems, eliminating cancer cells, studying product propertiesGamma Rays< < 0.01 nm> > 30 EHzCancer treatment, studying celestial items, security scanners

Thinking about that UV radiation constitutes about 10% of the suns overall light output, it would cause a lot of problem for anything surviving on land (because water does a quite excellent job of absorbing UV). Luckily for us Earthlings, were secured by the ozone layer and the rest of the atmosphere, which filter out most UV rays prior to they trigger any real damage.


infrared radiation

Think of the electro-magnetic radiation spectrum as a guitar string stretched over 8 frets. Play the lowest note and you get radio waves, play the highest one and you get gamma rays. On a guitar, various vibrational patterns in the string will offer off distinct sounds in the form of notes– our perception of them varies, however theyre all generally the same thing set on different strength settings.

gamma rays

ultraviolet radiation

Infrared radiation

Overall, UV radiation is energetic enough that it starts being a genuine danger to life. Even relatively low-energy UV can trigger nasty skin burns, far even worse than those caused just by heat (because theyre also radiation burns, as described above). Exposure to higher-energy UV can lead to cancer, as the waves wreak havoc on DNA hairs.

Visible light

Your TV remote can use IR to release commands over brief ranges with great success. The armed force is likewise, certainly, a big fan of IR, utilizing it both for observations and for directing munitions towards a target.

Radio wave generation in a DC existing antenna.Image through Wikipedia.

Prior to and after sunscreen, as seen by UV video camera, showing its effects.Image: Wikimedia Commons

Now we have a basic idea of how they form, cool. Lets go through each kind of electromagnetic radiation.

Microwaves are used to send information over wireless networks, to communicate with satellites and spacecraft, in classical and autonomous lorries for crash avoidance systems, some radio networks, keyless entry systems, and garage door remotes.

Electromagnetic radiation stands apart from the rest of electro-magnetic phenomena in that they are far-field effects. When created, the waves can likewise hurtle through space (they radiate, where the term radiation comes from) without any more input from the charges that created them.


Wavelength amounts to speed over frequency and is generally taken to represent the range between 2 succeeding crests. Technically, however, it can be measured anywhere on the wave.

Initially glimpse, they can appear to be wildly different things. Like, X-rays can be utilized to peer through the skin, and ultraviolets provide you a skin and a tan burn if you dont use sun block. Completely various?

Microwaves are electro-magnetic radiation with frequencies between 300 MHz (wavelength 100 cm) and 300 GHz (0.1 cm). Apart from a bit more energetic photons and a shorter wavelength (which indicates more energy density), theyre kinda-radio-wave-ish truly. Microwaves are thoroughly utilized in communication as well, but with a couple of key differences from radio waves.


If you have a conductor that isnt connected to a circuit, say an aircraft in flight, separation of those charges will produce brand-new radio waves– this is what allows radar signals to show off of stuff. The absorption or emission of radio waves constantly produces an electrical present, heat, or both.

Like all other electro-magnetic radiation, IR brings energy and acts both like a wave and like a quantum particle, the photon. A bit over half of all the solar power that reaches Earth does so as infrared radiation– thats why sunlight feels so warm.

Radio waves have the most affordable frequencies of all types of EMR, and their photons bring the least quantity of energy. Typically, anything between 3kHz and 300 GHz is considered to be a radio wave, although some definitions classify anything above 1 GHz or 3GHz as microwaves.

This capability to harm living organisms will be a typical feature from now on the list, as frequencies will only keep increasing even more on. At the higher ends of the UV spectrum (around 125 nm or less, sometimes called “extreme UV”), the energy carried by these waves is so high that it can in fact strip electrons from atoms shells in a process called photoionization.

Its frequency spans from 300 GHz (1mm) to the lower visible limitation (the color red) at 430 THz (700 nm). The reverse is likewise real, implying that bulk substances normally radiate some levels of IR as they launch their heat.

NASA/ JPL staff member Art Hammond viewed through an infrared camera.Image credits NASA/ JPL.

The EM spectrum over the frequency of 789 terahertz (THz) or more is called ultraviolet. Ultraviolet light is composed of actually short waves, from 10 nm to 400 nm, and brings a lot of energy.

Simply determine the range between same-points on the wave.Image credits Richard F. Lyon/ Wikipedia.

noticeable light

Their interaction with matter is largely limited to developing a bunch of electric charges expanded over a great deal of atoms– so each charge is quite small. Its helpful, nevertheless, considering that this dispersing allows a conductor connected to a circuit to change radio waves back into some electrical signals. Couple that with their speed (all EM waves take a trip at the speed of light in a vacuum), and theyre really great for long-range communications.

Its not all bad news. UV radiation is key to the synthesis of vitamin D in a lot of land vertebrates, including human beings. UV rays are likewise used in photography and astronomy, in certain security applications (to authenticate costs or credit cards), in forensics, as a sterilizer, and naturally, on tanning beds.

X-rays/ Röntgen radiation

Artistic representation of gamma-ray burst GRB 080319B. Notification the 2 polar beams of radiation, an inner, more concentrated one, and an outer, more diluted beam.Image credits NASA/Swift/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith and John Jones.

X-rays (and the more energetic gamma rays) are comprised of photons that all carry minimum-ionization energy (they can all photoionize), and are hence called ionizing radiation. They can cause enormous damage on biomolecules and organisms, typically affecting tissues really deeply listed below the skin as they quickly penetrate through a lot of matter.

They have frequencies in excess of 30 exahertz, and wavelengths of under 10 picometers (1 picometer is a thousandth of a nanometer or a thousandth of a billionth of a meter), which is less than the size of an atom. They are the single most deadly type of EM radiation for living organisms.

They are named after Wilhelm Röntgen, the German scientist who found them on November 8, 1895. Röntgen himself called them X-radiation since it was rather mysterious at the time– no one truly understood what this radiation was or what it did.

In other words, these are the categories we use to explain electro-magnetic radiation. They have things they like to travel through, and things that they show from. Theyre the light you cant see and can be enjoyable, really dangerous, and in some cases, remarkably deadly.

Believe of the electro-magnetic radiation spectrum as a guitar string extended over 8 stresses. Electromagnetic radiation stands apart from the rest of electromagnetic phenomena in that they are far-field results. As soon as created, the waves can likewise hurtle through area (they radiate, where the term radiation comes from) without any more input from the charges that produced them. Microwaves are electro-magnetic radiation with frequencies between 300 MHz (wavelength 100 cm) and 300 GHz (0.1 cm). In short, these are the categories we utilize to explain electromagnetic radiation.

Gamma rays

To get an idea of how extremely penetrative gamma rays are, know that mining operations utilize gamma-ray generators to look through substantial stacks of ore and choose the wealthiest for processing. Other uses include irradiation (used to decontaminate medical equipment or foodstuffs), to eliminate cancer tumors, and in nuclear medicine.

With frequencies ranging from 30 petahertz to 30 exahertz ( peta suggests 16 zeros, exa implies 19 nos) and wavelengths from 0.01 to 10 nanometers, X-rays are very energetic. Those with wavelengths under 0.2– 0.1 nm are called hard X-rays. Physicians utilize them to see the bones inside the body due to the fact that theyre so small and effective that our soft tissues are essentially transparent to them. The same goes with travel luggage at the airport– difficult X-rays can see right through them. Their wavelength is comparable to the size of private atoms, which is why geologists use them to determine crystal structures.

Image credits Jonny Lindner.