Quantcast Speed of Light lightning" or "fast as light" to describe rapid motion; nevertheless, it is difficult to realize how fast light actually travels. Not until recent years have scientists been able to measure accurately the speed of light. Prior to the middle 17th century, scientists thought that light required no time at all to pass from the source to the observer. ">

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Speed of Light

You probably have heard people say, "quick as lightning" or "fast as light" to describe rapid motion; nevertheless, it is difficult to realize how fast light actually travels. Not until recent years have scientists been able to measure accurately the speed of light.

Prior to the middle 17th century, scientists thought that light required no time at all to pass from the source to the observer. Then in 1675, Ole Roemer, a Danish astronomer, discovered that light travels approximately 186,000 miles per second in space. At this velocity, a light beam can circle the earth 7 1/2 times in one second.

The speed of light depends on the medium through which the light travels. In empty space, the speed is 186,000 (1.86 X 105) miles per second. It is almost the same in air. In water, it slows down to approximately 140,000 (1.4 X 105) miles per second. In glass, the speed of light is 124,000 (1.24 X 105) miles per second. In other words, the speed of light decreases as the density of the substance through which the light passes increases.

The velocity of light, which is the same as the velocity of other electromagnetic waves, is considered to be constant, at 186,000 miles per second. If expressed in meters, it is 300,000,000 meters per second.

Reflection of Light

Light waves obey the law of reflection in the same manner as other types of waves. Consider the straight path of a light ray admitted through a narrow slit into a darkened room. The straight path of the beam is made visible by illuminated dust particles suspended in the air. If the light beam is made to fall onto the surface of a mirror or other reflecting surface, however, the direction of the beam changes sharply. The light can be reflected in almost any direction depending on the angle at which the mirror is held.

As shown earlier in figure 1-9, if a light beam strikes a mirror, the angle at which the beam is reflected depends on the angle at which it strikes the mirror. The beam approaching the mirror is the INCIDENT or striking beam, and the beam leaving the mirror is the REFLECTED beam. 

The term "reflected light" simply refers to light waves that are neither transmitted nor absorbed, but are thrown back from the surface of the medium they encounter. You will see this application used in our discussion of radio waves (chapter 2) and antennas (chapter 4).

Q.39 At what speed does light travel? answer.gif (214 bytes)

Refraction of Light

The change of direction that occurs when a ray of light passes from one transparent substance into another of different density is called refraction. Refraction is due to the fact that light travels at various speeds in different transparent substances. For example, water never appears as deep as it really is, and objects under water appear to be closer to the surface than they really are. A bending of the light rays causes these impressions.

Another example of refraction is the apparent bending of a spoon when it is immersed in a cup of water. The bending seems to take place at the surface of the water, or exactly at the point where there is a change of density. Obviously, the spoon does not bend from the pressure of the water. The light forming the image of the spoon is bent as it passes from the water (a medium of high density) to the air (a medium of comparatively low density).

Without refraction, light waves would pass in straight lines through transparent substances without any change of direction. Refer back to figure 1-10, which shows refraction of a wave. As you can see, all rays striking the glass at any angle other than perpendicular are refracted. However, the perpendicular ray, which enters the glass normal to the surface, continues through the glass and into the air in a straight line no refraction takes place.

Diffusion of Light

When light is reflected from a mirror, the angle of reflection of each ray equals the angle of incidence. When light is reflected from a piece of plain white paper, however, the reflected beam is scattered, or DIFFUSED, as shown in figure 1-21. Because the surface of the paper is not smooth, the reflected light is broken up into many light beams that are reflected in all directions.

Figure 1-21. - Diffusion of light.

Absorption of Light

You have just seen that a light beam is reflected and diffused when it falls onto a piece of white paper. If a light beam falls onto a piece of black paper, the black paper absorbs most of the light rays and very little light is reflected from the paper. If the surface on which the light beam falls is perfectly black, there is no reflection; that is, the light is totally absorbed. No matter what kind of surface light falls on, however, some of the light is absorbed.

Q.40 A light wave enters a sheet of glass at a perfect right angle to the surface. Is the majority of the wave reflected, refracted, transmitted, or absorbed? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.41 When light strikes a piece of white paper, the light is reflected in all directions. What do we call this scattering of light?answer.gif (214 bytes)

COMPARISON OF LIGHT WAVES WITH SOUND WAVES

There are two main differences between sound waves and light waves. The first difference is in velocity. Sound waves travel through air at the speed of approximately 1,100 feet per second; light waves travel through air and empty space at a speed of approximately 186,000 miles per second. The second difference is that sound is composed of longitudinal waves (alternate compressions and expansions of matter) and light is composed of transverse waves in an electromagnetic field.

Although both are forms of wave motion, sound requires a solid, liquid, or gaseous medium; whereas light travels through empty space. The denser the medium, the greater the speed of sound. The opposite is true of light. Light travels approximately one-third slower in water than in air. Sound travels through all substances, but light cannot pass through opaque materials.

Frequency affects both sound and light. A certain range of sound frequencies produces sensations that you can hear. A slow vibration (low frequency) in sound gives the sensation of a low note. A more rapid sound vibration (higher frequency) produces a higher note. Likewise, a certain range of light frequencies produces sensations that you can see. Violet light is produced at the high-frequency end of the light spectrum, while red light is produced at the low-frequency end of the light spectrum. A change in frequency of sound waves causes an audible sensation - a difference in pitch. A change in the frequency of a light wave causes a visual sensation - a difference in color.

For a comparison of light waves with sound waves, see table 1-2.

Table 1-2. - Comparison of Light Waves and Sound Waves

  SOUND WAVES LIGHT WAVES
VELOCITY IN AIR APPROXIMATELY 1,100 FEET PER SECOND APPROXIMATELY 186,000 MILES PER SECOND
FORM A FORM OF WAVE MOTION A FORM OF WAVE MOTION
WAVE COMPOSITION LONGITUDINAL TRANSVERSE
TRANSMITTING MEDIUM ALL SUBSTANCES EMPTY SPACE AND ALL SUBSTANCES EXCEPT OPAQUE MATERIALS
RELATION OF TRANSMITTING MEDIUM VELOCITY TO VELOCITY THE DENSER THE MEDIUM, THE GREATER THE SPEED THE DENSER THE MEDIUM, THE SLOWER THE SPEED
SENSATIONS PRODUCED HEARING SEEING
VARIATIONS IN SENSATIONS PRODUCED A LOW FREQUENCY CAUSES A LOW NOTE; A HIGH FREQUENCY, A HIGH NOTE A LOW FREQUENCY CAUSES RED LIGHT; A HIGH FREQUENCY , VIOLET LIGHT

Q.42 What three examples of electromagnetic energy are mentioned in the text? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.43 What is the main difference between the bulk of the electromagnetic spectrum and the visual spectrum? answer.gif (214 bytes)

ELECTROMAGNETIC SPECTRUM

Light is one kind of electromagnetic energy. There are many other types, including heat energy and radio energy. The only difference between the various types of electromagnetic energy is the frequency of their waves (rate of vibration). The term SPECTRUM is used to designate the entire range of electromagnetic waves arranged in order of their frequencies. The VISIBLE SPECTRUM contains only those waves which stimulate the sense of sight. You, as a technician, might be expected to maintain equipment that uses electromagnetic waves within, above, and below the visible spectrum.

There are neither sharp dividing lines nor gaps in the ELECTROMAGNETIC SPECTRUM. Figure 1-22 illustrates how portions of the electromagnetic spectrum overlap. Notice that only a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum contains visible waves, or light, which can be seen by the human eye.

Figure 1-22. - Electromagnetic spectrum.

ELECTROMAGNETIC WAVES

In general, the same principles and properties of light waves apply to the communications electromagnetic waves you are about to study. The electromagnetic field is used to transfer energy (as communications) from point to point. We will introduce the basic ANTENNA as the propagation source of these electromagnetic waves.

THE BASIC ANTENNA

The study of antennas and electromagnetic wave propagation is essential to a complete understanding of radio communication, radar, loran, and other electronic systems. Figure 1-23 shows a simple radio communication system. In the illustration, the transmitter is an electronic device that generates radio-frequency energy. The energy travels through a transmission line (we will discuss this in chapter 3) to an antenna. The antenna converts the energy into radio waves that radiate into space from the antenna at the speed of light. The radio waves travel through the atmosphere or space until they are either reflected by an object or absorbed. If another antenna is placed in the path of the radio waves, it absorbs part of the waves and converts them to energy. This energy travels through another transmission line and is fed to a receiver. From this example, you can see that the requirements for a simple communications system are (1) transmitting equipment, (2) transmission line, (3) transmitting antenna, (4) medium, (5) receiving antenna, and (6) receiving equipment.

Figure 1-23. - Simple radio communication system.

An antenna is a conductor or a set of conductors used either to radiate electromagnetic energy into space or to collect this energy from space. Figure 1-24 shows an antenna. View A is a drawing of an actual antenna; view B is a cut-away view of the antenna; and view C is a simplified diagram of the antenna.

Figure 1-24. - Antenna.

COMPONENTS OF THE ELECTROMAGNETIC WAVE

An electromagnetic wave consists of two primary components - an ELECTRIC FIELD and a MAGNETIC FIELD. The electric field results from the force of voltage, and the magnetic field results from the flow of current.

Although electromagnetic fields that are radiated are commonly considered to be waves, under certain circumstances their behavior makes them appear to have some of the properties of particles. In general, however, it is easier to picture electromagnetic radiation in space as horizontal and vertical lines of force oriented at right angles to each other. These lines of force are made up of an electric field (E) and a magnetic field (H), which together make up the electromagnetic field in space.

The electric and magnetic fields radiated from an antenna form the electromagnetic field. This field is responsible for the transmission and reception of electromagnetic energy through free space. An antenna, however, is also part of the electrical circuit of a transmitter or a receiver and is equivalent to a circuit containing inductance, capacitance, and resistance. Therefore, the antenna can be expected to display definite voltage and current relationships with respect to a given input. A current through the antenna produces a magnetic field, and a charge on the antenna produces an electric field. These two fields combine to form the INDUCTION field. To help you gain a better understanding of antenna theory, we must review some basic electrical concepts. We will review voltage and its electric field, current and its magnetic field, and their relationship to propagation of electrical energy.

Q.44 What are the two components (fields) that make up the electromagnetic wave? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.45 What do we call a conductor (or set of conductors) that radiates electromagnetic energy into space? answer.gif (214 bytes)




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