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Waves and Photons
This lesson introduces students to electromagnetic waves, the concept of photons, and the relation between photon wavelength and energy. This is tied to solar observations at various wavelengths using the many types of electromagnetic waves. Students will discover that electromagnetic waves are a linked oscillation of magnetic fields and electric currents, spreading through space. They will also discover that although light spreads like a wave, it only gives up its energy in well-defined amounts, known as photons, and when an individual atom emits light, it usually changes from some excited state of higher energy to one with lower energy. The energy (color) of the emitted photon is very precisely determined by the difference between those levels and the shorter the wavelength, the bigger the photon energy. Thus hot regions of the Sun, whose atoms move faster and therefore have more energy, are likely to emit shorter wavelengths. The work of James Clerk Maxwell and Heinrich Hertz is also discussed.
Intended for grade levels:
  • High (9-12)
Type of resource:
  • For the classroom:
    • Lesson plan
  • Physics
  • Space science
Technical requirements:
No specific technical requirements, just a browser required
Cost / Copyright:
No cost
May be used non-commercially as long as credit is given to the author.
DLESE Catalog ID: DLESE-000-000-005-169
Educational standards:
  • National Science Education Standards (NSES):
    • 9-12:
      • Unifying concepts and processes:
        • Evidence, models, and explanation
      • B - Physical science:
        • Interactions of energy and matter
      • G - History and nature of science:
        • Historical perspectives
        • Nature of scientific knowledge
        • Science as a human endeavor
Related resources:
This resource is referenced by 'From Stargazers to Starships'
Resource contact / Creator / Publisher:
Author: Dr David P. Stern
Goddard Space Flight Center