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Digital Age

The Digital Revolution | Types of Light | Electromagnetic Spectrum in Stained Glass | Museum Road Show

The Digital Revolution

Digital technology has transformed how we explore the Universe. Telescopes, photography, and spectroscopy remain our basic tools, but digital light detectors and processors have enhanced their power. Observatories in space have broadened the range of light we can gather. Our view of the Universe now extends from radio waves to gamma rays. And new technologies are revolutionizing ground-based astronomy, enabling us to create larger and more powerful telescopes than ever before.

Types of Light

Our eyes can see only a slice of the entire range of light, which is called the electromagnetic spectrum. A continuous span of wavelengths ranging from very long to very short, the electromagnetic spectrum consists of radio, infrared, visible, ultraviolet, x-ray, and gamma ray light. But like different notes on a musical scale, all these forms of light are variations of the same thing.

Electromagnetic Spectrum in Stained Glass

The stained glass panel above depicts the range of light that shines onto the Earth from space, as well as how deeply different light rays penetrate the atmosphere. The light rays are arranged by wavelength (symbolized by the wavy white band) from long to short. Also shown are meteors and an aurora, which produce radio waves, and high-energy particles called cosmic rays. Colors depict these--Green: Radio waves, Yellow teardrops: Meteors, Orange teardrops: Aurora, Red: Infrared light, Rainbow colors: Visible light, Violet: Ultraviolet light, Dark violet triangles: X-rays, Light violet triangles: Gamma rays, Pink: Cosmic rays.

Museum Road Show

Join our resident experts as they explain--in the spirit of the PBS television program "Antiques Roadshow"--about various kinds of light detectors on display in "Explore the Universe."
   Dicke Radiometer
   WULF Electroscope

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum