The sun emits an enormous amount of electromagnetic radiation (solar energy). Humans can see only a fraction of this energy, which is referred to as “visible light.” The manner in which solar energy travels can be described and measured as waves. Scientists can determine the amount of energy of a wave by measuring its wavelength, the distance between two consecutive, similar points in a series of waves, such as from crest to crest or trough to trough (Figure 5.9 ).
Visible light constitutes only one of many types of electromagnetic radiation emitted from the sun. The electromagnetic spectrumis the range of all possible wavelengths of radiation (Figure 5.10). Each wavelength corresponds to a different amount of energy carried.
Each type of electromagnetic radiation has a characteristic range of wavelengths. The longer the wavelength (or the more stretched out it appears), the less energy is carried. Short, tight waves carry the most energy. This may seem illogical, but think of it in terms of a piece of moving rope. It takes little effort by a person to move a rope in long, wide waves. To make a rope move in short, tight waves, a person would need to apply significantly more energy.
The sun emits (Figure 5.10) a broad range of electromagnetic radiation, including X-rays and ultraviolet (UV) rays. The higher-energy waves are dangerous to living things; for example, X-rays and UV rays can be harmful to humans.