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What is light made of?
Physics for Kids
Science of Light
This is not an easy question. Light has no mass and is not really considered matter. So does it even exist? Of course it does! We couldn't live without light. Today scientists say light is a form of energy made of photons. Light is unique in that it behaves like both a particle and a wave.
Why does light go through some things and not others?
Depending on the type of matter it comes into contact with, light will behave differently. Sometimes light will pass directly through the matter, like with air or water. This type of matter is called transparent. Other objects completely reflect light, like an animal or a book. These objects are called opaque. A third type of object does some of both and tends to scatter the light. These objects are called translucent objects.
Light helps us to survive
Without sunlight our world would be a dead dark place. Sunlight does more than just help us see (which is pretty great, too). Sunlight keeps the Earth warm, so it's not just a frozen ball in outer space. It also is a major component in photosynthesis which is how most of the plant life on Earth grows and gets nutrients. Sunlight is a source of energy as well as a source of vitamin D for humans.
The speed of light
Light moves at the fastest known speed in the universe. Nothing moves faster than (or even close to) the speed of light. In a vacuum, where there is nothing to slow it down, light travels 186,282 miles per second! Wow, that's fast! When light travels through matter, like air or water, it slows down some, but it's still pretty fast.
To give you and idea as to how fast light is, we'll give you some examples. The sun is almost 93 million miles from the Earth. It takes around 8 minutes for light to get from the sun to the Earth. It takes around 1.3 seconds for light to go from the moon to the Earth.
Normally, light travels in a straight path called a ray, however, when passing through transparent materials, like water or glass, light bends or turns. This is because different materials or mediums have different qualities. In each type of medium, whether it is air or water or glass, the wavelength of the light will change, but not the frequency. As a result, the direction and speed of the traveling light wave will change and the light will appear to bend or change directions.
One example of refraction is a prism. Prisms are unique in that each color of light is refracted to a different angle. So it can take white light from the sun and send out light of various colors.
Lenses use refraction to help us see things. Telescopes help us to see things far away and microscopes enable us to see very small things. Even glasses use refraction so that we can see everyday things more clearly.
Take a quick 10 question quiz on light
- Experiment with the properties of light and how it travels.
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