What is Light?

by Nancy Sutthoff

If you were to ask someone the above question they may well
look at you as if you were either joking or just a bit nutty.
They may even tell you they think you are. That
is fine. They will not have
read this article so therefore, they may think they know what light is, but they
won’t have the whole story. You

Light is not as simple as it seems to be.

Since the beginning of time, humans have strived to
discover and understand what light is exactly. In simple terms, light is energy.
scientists who study light are called Physicists. Physics
is the study of energy and matter. The
effects of energy on matter, and the effects of matter on energy.

Sunlight/Solar Energy

The light we receive in the form of daylight from the
sun is officially called Solar Energy. Solar energy also provides food for the Earth.
This is how: Light from
the sun contains a vast amount of energy that, if tapped into, has a great deal
of power to be obtained. From the very beginning plants have used the sun to
create energy. Animals such as reptiles use it to maintain their body
temperature. We humans have only recently begun to explore the potentials of one
of the most valuable resources available to us; the sun.

Plants use light to make their own food. Plants are also
known as autotrophs, which means they are able to make their food from the light
of the sun. They make their food through a process called photosynthesis.
Through photosynthesis, plants are able to take the energy from the sun’s rays
and turn it into a type of energy that they are able to use. All green plants
use this method. Some bacteria are also known to use photosynthesis.


Color is the thing we perhaps notice most about light in
the world around us. But why we see colors the way we do all has to do with
light. The reason something appears to be the color that does is that the object
is absorbing all the other colors of light except the ones we see, which are
reflected back to our eyes. If something absorbs all the colors, it appears
black, if it reflects everything, it appears white. Color comes from what is
called the visible spectrum of light. This spectrum goes from red to orange to
yellow to green to blue to indigo to violet, all the major colors of the
spectrum, and everything in between. An easy way to remember this order is to
remember Roy G. Biv, much liked the colors of the rainbow. Scientists measure
the wavelengths of light in this spectrum in nanometers or billionths of a
meter. Red has the longest wavelength, and violet has the shortest. So, what
color we see depends on the wavelength of the light we absorb into our eyes. The
primary colors of light differ from the primary colors of solid objects such as paint (red, blue and yellow). The primary colors of light are blue, green, and red. From these colors, every other color
can be made.


  • Draw a rainbow, or use a prism to create a miniature rainbow that you can observe.
  • Get three flashlights, and cover the ends with red, blue, and green cellophane. Shine different combinations of light on a piece of white paper and see what colors you get.
  • Find out if your town uses and/or has facilities to make solar energy usable for utilities (electricity, heat, water). If so, see if they offer tours of the premises so you can SEE how light is energy.

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