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Global Atmospheric Change

Author(s): Nancy Moreno, Barbara Tharp and Judith Dresden

Rainbow in the Room

Light that we can see is just part of the entire spectrum of radiation produced by the sun (electromagnetic radiation). The sun bombards Earth with radiation of many different wavelengths at the same time. Some radiation emitted by the sun can be classified as infrared (which we feel as heat) or visible (which we see as light and color). However, the sun also produces higher energy radiation, such as ultraviolet (or UV) radiation, x-rays, and gamma rays.

Radiation from the sun, including light, behaves as if it travels in waves. The distance between wave crests (wavelength) and the speed with which they pass a fixed point (frequency) are related to the amount of energy contained in photons (basic units of light) that make up the wave. Radiation of shorter wavelengths (which travel at higher frequencies) has more energy than radiation of longer wavelengths. Visible light falls between the longer wavelengths of infrared radiation and shorter, higher energy wavelengths of ultraviolet radiation.

Visible light consists of a mix of wavelengths that we detect as different colors. We can see these colors when white light (light as we usually see it) passes through a prism—or drops of water—and forms a rainbow.

The colors of the rainbow always appear in the same order, because they correspond to different wavelengths of light. You may have learned the acronym, “ROY G. BIV,” to help you remember the colors of the rainbow from longest to shortest wavelengths: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.


Funded by the following grant(s)

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

My Health My World: National Dissemination
Grant Number: 5R25ES009259
The Environment as a Context for Opportunities in Schools
Grant Number: 5R25ES010698, R25ES06932


Houston Endowment Inc.

Foundations for the Future: Capitalizing on Technology to Promote Equity, Access and Quality in Elementary Science Education