Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ultraviolet Rays

Ultraviolet Light is another type of electromagnetic radiation. It is known as ultraviolet because the frequency of ultraviolet rays are just larger than that of violet visible light (ultra=beyond).

This area of the spectrum has wavelengths as large as 400 nanometers (right on the cusp of visible light) and as small as 10 nanometers. This area is further subdivided into regions, the most well-known of them being UVA, UVB, and UVC, spanning 400-315, 315-280, and 280-100 nanometers, respectively. Unlike many of the former parts of the spectrum, ultraviolet light is primarily blocked from reaching the surface of the Earth. Of the ultraviolet light that does pass through the ozone layer, (perhaps 2% of the radiation that reaches the ozone layer from the Sun) most of it is UVA rays.

UVA rays are beneficial to health in small quantities, as they cause the production of vitamin D. In larger quantities, they cause tanning of the skin, and in excess, sunburn. UVA rays also are emitted from black lights, lights that are just on the edge of ultraviolet, making them partially visible. However, a majority of the light emitted is within the UVA region of the electromagnetic spectrum. and this radiation can cause chemical reactions, allowing a few substances to radiate a glow under UVA light.

An example of this is the security band on a typical U.S. $20 bill. This band is hard to duplicate, discouraging counterfeit.

UVB light (315-280 nm) is the next type (in increasing frequency) of ultraviolet light. It affects the skin in a more negative way, and is the rarer of the two types (UVA and UVB) that penetrate the atmosphere. Radiation in this part of the spectrum is more likely to cause cancer than UVA.

UVC light (280-100 nm) is blocked by the ozone layer, but is sometimes artificially produced on the earth's surface. This type of radiation serves as a disinfectant, as exposure of a microorganism to UVC rays damages its genetic material, resulting in mutations that cause infertility, and shortly after, death. In large exposure, these rays have harmful effects on humans as well. Despite their health hazard, they have practical applications in the disinfection of water and other materials.

The remainder of the ultraviolet spectrum (100-10 nm) is mainly used for astronomical purposes, although the Universe looks fundamentally different in ultraviolet than in visible. The most prominent feature, or, in this case, lack thereof, is the dimness of most stars in ultraviolet. Only stars with surfaces at higher temperatures (very young stars and stars in the final stages of their evolution) appear brightly in this part of the spectrum. The interstellar medium, or the sparse material occupying the space between stars, can be best seen and studied with ultraviolet telescopes. These telescopes must be mounted in space, however, due to the low amount of the radiation that reaches the surface of the Earth.

An image (false-color) of the galaxy Messier 81 seen in ultraviolet light. To obtain colorful images of other galaxies, these images are often combined with the images in visible light to detect more features.


No comments: