Electromagnetic radiation

What we learn in this chapter

Astronomers learn about the cosmos through the study of signals arriving at the earth in the form of electromagnetic radiation or as neutrinos, cosmic rays, meteorites, and, hopefully in the near future, gravitational waves. Electromagnetic radiation travels at speed c and can behave either as a wave or as a flux of photons each of energy E = h v. One can convert between wavelength, frequency and photon energy through algebraic or numerical relations. The bands of electromagnetic radiation extend from radio waves at the lowest frequencies to gamma rays at the highest. The average photon energy, or frequency, of radiation from an object is an indicator of the temperature of the emitting source if the radiation is thermal. Absorption of photons in the earth's atmosphere is frequency dependent so observations of some bands must be carried out from high altitude balloons or space vehicles. Similarly, absorption in the interstellar medium by dust and atoms renders the cosmos more or less transparent, depending upon the frequency band (see also Chapter 10).

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