The Physics Factbook™
Edited by Glenn Elert -- Written by his students
An educational, Fair Use website
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|Bibliographic Entry||Result |
|Ardley, Neil and Matthews, Robert. Physics Today.Chicago:World Book, 1985: 99.||"These gamma rays constitute electromagnetic radiation of extremely short wavelength, from about 10-10 m down to 10-15 m or less … … …."||< 10-15 m|
|"Electromagnetic Radiation". Encyclopedia Americana. Vol. 10. Danbury, Connecticut: Grolier, 1994: 156.||"Beyond X-rays lie gamma rays, with wavelengths of 0.01 Å or smaller. These are the shortest electromagnetic waves known."||< 10-12 m|
|Gamma. Abbey Newsletter. Vol. 8, No. 2 (April 1984).||"High-energy photons of wavelength shorter than 0.1 nm emitted from atomic nuclei during radioactive decay."||< 10-10 m|
|"Color". The New Book of Popular Science. Vol. 6. Danbury, Connecticut: Grolier, 1980: 287.||"The waves of gamma rays emitted from radioactive materials may be less than 5/100,000,000,000 of a centimeter in length."||< 5 × 10-11 m|
|Davidson, Michael W. & Abramowitz, Mortimer. The Nature of Electromagnetic Radiation. Molecular Expressions. Florida State University: Olympus America Inc., 2001.||"This high energy radiation has wavelengths ranging from 0.1 to 0.000001 nanometers."||10-15 m|
5.5 trillionths of an inch! It sounds very infinitesimal, butgamma rays of the electromagnetic spectrum have wavelengths ofthat size and shorter. The lengths range from 10-10 metersto 10-15 meters or shorter. There is no absolutelower limit to the extent of the shortest wavelength because ithas not yet been reached. These waves are generated by radioactiveatoms and in nuclear explosions, such as supernova explosionsor the destruction of atoms. Things like neutron stars and pulsars,and black holes are all sources of gamma rays in space. Theserays have the most electromagnetic energy of any other rays inthe spectrum. They have tremendous penetrating ability and havebeen reported to be able to pass through 3 meters of concrete.Also, as a medicinal advantage, gamma rays can be used to killcancerous cells.
Unlike visible light and X-rays, gamma rays cannot be capturedand reflected in mirrors. The high-energy photons would pass rightthrough. Gamma-ray telescopes use a process called Compton scattering,where a gamma-ray strikes an electron and loses energy.
Today, there are bursts of gamma rays in deep space, whichhappen at least once a day. They last for fractions of a secondto a minute. Gamma-ray bursts can release more energy in 10 secondsthan the Sun will emit in its entire 10 billion-year lifetime!
If we had gamma-ray vision, we would be able to peer into thehearts of solar flares, supernovae, neutron stars, black holes,and galaxies. It is a wonder that such powerful energies are generatedfrom such a tiny wavelength.
Elena Won -- 2001
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