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Q & A: Is light wavy?

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
Hi, I was wondering whether light waves are really wavy like in nature or is it just our depiction. I mean is light waves just a graphical representation on paper or whether we would see light waves just like we see water waves, of course provided that we could see such small features.
- satya sookhun (age 27)
U K
A:
The squiggly lines we sometimes use to represent waviness do not look like some part of a light wave. They do look like graphs of how the electric field varies from place to place in certain light waves.

Mike W.

Textbook drawings of wavy electric-field functions also greatly exaggerate the distance scale. Green light, which is right in the middle of the visible spectrum, has a wavelength of about 550 nanometers, or 0.00000055 meters, which is hard to draw in a book. If the book drew a pattern with wiggles with this size, it would probably look green (from some angles) -- holograms and shiny diffraction patterns do just this. Radio waves can be many meters long.

Tom

(published on 10/22/2007)

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