Visible spectrum

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The visible spectrum is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to (can be detected by) the human eye. Electromagnetic radiation in this range of wavelengths is called visible light or simply light. A typical human eye will respond to wavelengths from about 390 to 750 nm.[1] In terms of frequency, this corresponds to a band in the vicinity of 400–790 THz. A light-adapted eye generally has its maximum sensitivity at around 555 nm (540 THz), in the green region of the optical spectrum (see: luminosity function). The spectrum does not, however, contain all the colors that the human eyes and brain can distinguish. Unsaturated colors such as pink, or purple variations such as magenta, are absent, for example, because they can only be made by a mix of multiple wavelengths.

Visible wavelengths also pass through the "optical window", the region of the electromagnetic spectrum that passes largely unattenuated through the Earth's atmosphere. Clean air scatters blue light more than wavelengths toward the red, which is why the mid-day sky appears blue. The human eye's response is defined by subjective testing, but atmospheric windows are defined by physical measurement.

The "visible window" is so called because it overlaps the human visible response spectrum. The near infrared (NIR) windows lie just out of the human response window, and the Medium Wavelength IR (MWIR) and Long Wavelength or Far Infrared (LWIR or FIR) are far beyond the human response region.

Many species can see frequencies which fall outside the "visible spectrum". Bees and many other insects can see light in the ultraviolet, which helps them find nectar in flowers. Plant species that depend on insect pollination may owe reproductive success to their appearance in ultraviolet light, rather than how colorful they appear to humans. Birds too can see into the ultraviolet (300–400 nm), and some have sex-dependent markings on their plumage, which are only visible in the ultraviolet range.[2][3]

Contents

History

Two of the earliest explanations of the optical spectrum came from Isaac Newton, when he wrote his Opticks, and from Goethe, in his Theory of Colours, although earlier observations had been made by Roger Bacon who first recognized the visible spectrum in a glass of water, four centuries before Newton discovered that prisms could disassemble and reassemble white light.[4]

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