Visible light, radio waves, x rays, and gamma rays, are all types of Electromagnetic Radiation in the Electromagnetic Spectrum.
Visible light (commonly referred to simply as light) is electromagnetic radiation that 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 400×10−9 m, to 700 nanometres – between the infrared, with longer wavelengths and the ultraviolet, with shorter wavelengths. These numbers do not represent the absolute limits of human vision, but the approximate range within which most people can see reasonably well under most circumstances. Various sources define visible light as narrowly as 420 to 680 to as broadly as 380 to 800 nm. Under ideal laboratory conditions, people can see infrared up to at least 1050 nm, children and young adults ultraviolet down to about 310 to 313 nm.
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.
Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies the constituents and interactions of atomic nuclei. The most commonly known applications of nuclear physics are nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons technology, but the research has provided application in many fields, including those in nuclear medicine and magnetic resonance imaging, ion implantation in materials engineering, and radiocarbon dating in geology and archaeology.
The field of particle physics evolved out of nuclear physics and is typically taught in close association with nuclear physics.
Gamma radiation, also known as gamma rays, and denoted by the Greek letter γ, refers to electromagnetic radiation of extremely high frequency and therefore high energy per photon. Gamma rays are ionizing radiation, and are thus biologically hazardous. They are classically produced by the decay from high energy states of atomic nuclei (gamma decay), but are also created by other processes. Paul Villard, a French chemist and physicist, discovered gamma radiation in 1900, while studying radiation emitted from radium. Villard's radiation was named "gamma rays" by Ernest Rutherford in 1903.
Natural sources of gamma rays on Earth include gamma decay from naturally occurring radioisotopes, and secondary radiation from atmospheric interactions with cosmic ray particles. Rare terrestrial natural sources produce gamma rays that are not of a nuclear origin, such as lightning strikes and terrestrial gamma-ray flashes. Gamma rays are produced by a number of astronomical processes in which very high-energy electrons are produced, that in turn cause secondary gamma rays by the mechanisms of bremsstrahlung, inverse Compton scattering and synchrotron radiation. A large fraction of such astronomical gamma rays are screened by Earth's atmosphere and can only be detected by spacecraft.
The electromagnetic spectrum is the range of all possible frequencies of electromagnetic radiation. The "electromagnetic spectrum" of an object has a different meaning, and is instead the characteristic distribution of electromagnetic radiation emitted or absorbed by that particular object.
The electromagnetic spectrum extends from below the low frequencies used for modern radio communication to gamma radiation at the short-wavelength (high-frequency) end, thereby covering wavelengths from thousands of kilometers down to a fraction of the size of an atom. The limit for long wavelengths is the size of the universe itself, while it is thought that the short wavelength limit is in the vicinity of the Planck length, although in principle the spectrum is infinite and continuous.
Electromagnetic radiation (EM radiation or EMR) is one of the fundamental phenomena of electromagnetism, behaving as waves propagating through space, and also as photon particles traveling through space, carrying radiant energy. In a vacuum, it propagates at a characteristic speed, the speed of light, normally in straight lines. EMR is emitted and absorbed by charged particles. As an electromagnetic wave, it has both electric and magnetic field components, which oscillate in a fixed relationship to one another, perpendicular to each other and perpendicular to the direction of energy and wave propagation.
EMR is characterized by the frequency or wavelength of its wave. The electromagnetic spectrum, in order of increasing frequency and decreasing wavelength, consists of radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, visible light, ultraviolet radiation, X-rays and gamma rays. The eyes of various organisms sense a somewhat variable but relatively small range of frequencies of EMR called the visible spectrum or light. Higher frequencies correspond to proportionately more energy carried by each photon; for instance, a single gamma ray photon carries far more energy than a single photon of visible light.
Ionizing (or ionising) radiation is radiation composed of particles that individually carry enough kinetic energy to liberate an electron from an atom or molecule, ionizing it. Ionizing radiation is generated through nuclear reactions, either artificial or natural, by very high temperature (e.g. plasma discharge or the corona of the Sun), via production of high energy particles in particle accelerators, or due to acceleration of charged particles by the electromagnetic fields produced by natural processes, from lightning to supernova explosions.
When ionizing radiation is emitted by or absorbed by an atom, it can liberate an atomic particle (typically an electron, proton, or neutron, but sometimes an entire nucleus) from the atom. Such an event can alter chemical bonds and produce ions, usually in ion-pairs, that are especially chemically reactive. This greatly magnifies the chemical and biological damage per unit energy of radiation because chemical bonds will be broken in this process. If the atom were inside a crystal lattice in a solid phase, then a "hole" would exist where the original atom was.