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Light is electromagnetic radiation within a certain portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The word usually refers to visible light, which is visible to the human eye and is responsible for the sense of sight. Visible light is usually defined as having a wavelength in the range of 400 nanometres (nm), or 400×10 m, to 700 nanometres – between the infrared (with longer wavelengths) and the ultraviolet (with shorter wavelengths). Often, infrared and ultraviolet are also called light.
The main source of light on Earth is the Sun. Sunlight provides the energy that green plants use to create sugars mostly in the form of starches, which release energy into the living things that digest them. This process of photosynthesis provides virtually all the energy used by living things. Historically, another important source of light for humans has been fire, from ancient campfires to modern kerosene lamps. With the development of electric lights and of power systems, electric lighting has all but replaced firelight. Some species of animals generate their own light, called bioluminescence. For example, fireflies use light to locate mates, and vampire squids use it to hide themselves from prey.
Primary properties of visible light are intensity, propagation direction, frequency or wavelength spectrum, and polarisation, while its speed in a vacuum, 299,792,458 meters per second, is one of the fundamental constants of nature. Visible light, as with all types of electromagnetic radiation (EMR), is experimentally found to always move at this speed in vacuum.
In physics, the term light sometimes refers to electromagnetic radiation of any wavelength, whether visible or not. In this sense, gamma rays, X-rays, microwaves and radio waves are also light. Like all types of light, visible light is emitted and absorbed in tiny "packets" called photons, and exhibits properties of both waves and particles. This property is referred to as the wave–particle duality. The study of light, known as optics, is an important research area in modern physics.
- CIE (1987). International Lighting Vocabulary. Number 17.4. CIE, 4th edition. ISBN 978-3-900734-07-7.
By the International Lighting Vocabulary, the definition of light is: “Any radiation capable of causing a visual sensation directly.”
- Pal, G. K.; Pal, Pravati (2001). "chapter 52". Textbook of Practical Physiology (1st ed.). Chennai: Orient Blackswan. p. 387. ISBN 978-81-250-2021-9. Retrieved 11 October 2013.
The human eye has the ability to respond to all the wavelengths of light from 400-700 nm. This is called the visible part of the spectrum.
- Buser, Pierre A.; Imbert, Michel (1992). Vision. MIT Press. p. 50. ISBN 978-0-262-02336-8. Retrieved 11 October 2013.
Light is a special class of radiant energy embracing wavelengths between 400 and 700 nm (or mμ), or 4000 to 7000 Å.
- Gregory Hallock Smith (2006). Camera lenses: from box camera to digital. SPIE Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-8194-6093-6.
- Narinder Kumar (2008). Comprehensive Physics XII. Laxmi Publications. p. 1416. ISBN 978-81-7008-592-8.
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