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Often, when people get excited, they run around, jump up and down, and shout without making a whole lot of sense. But when atomic particles get excited, they can produce energy that is radiated at a variety of wavelengths. In contrast to the babble of an excited human throng, this electromagnetic radiation can tell you a lot, if you have the instruments to interpret it.

Astronomer's Notebook

How fast do electromagnetic waves move? All of them— whether visible light, invisible radio waves, x-rays, or gamma radiation—move (in a vacuum) at the speed of light, approximately 186,000 miles per second (299,792,458 meters per second). Fast, but hardly an infinite, unlimited speed. Remember the Andromeda galaxy from Chapter 5? We can see it, but the photons of light we just received from the galaxy are 2 million years old. Now, that's a long commute.

Astronomer's Notebook

How fast do electromagnetic waves move? All of them— whether visible light, invisible radio waves, x-rays, or gamma radiation—move (in a vacuum) at the speed of light, approximately 186,000 miles per second (299,792,458 meters per second). Fast, but hardly an infinite, unlimited speed. Remember the Andromeda galaxy from Chapter 5? We can see it, but the photons of light we just received from the galaxy are 2 million years old. Now, that's a long commute.

Our eyes, one such instrument, can interpret electromagnetic radiation in the 400 to 700 nanometer (or 4000 to 7000 Angstrom) wavelength range. A nanometer (abbreviated nm) is one billionth of a meter, or 10-9 meter. An Angstrom (abbreviated A) is 10 times smaller, or 1010 meter. But that is only a small part of the spectrum. What about the rest of the "keyboard"?

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