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9 Examples of the Electromagnetic Spectrum

The electromagnetic spectrum are wavelengths and frequencies of electromagnetic radiation that consist of massless particles known as a photons. These are synchronized oscillations of electric and magnetic fields that travel at the speed of light in a vacuum carrying electromagnetic radiant energy. The following chart lists the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Gamma Rays< 0.1 nanometer
X-rays0.01 - 10 nanometers
Ultraviolet Light10 - 380 nanometers
Ionizing Radiation< 125 nanometers
Non-ionizing Radiation> 125 nanometers
Visible Light380 - 740 nanometers
Infrared Light740 nanometers - 1 millimeter
Microwaves1 millimeter - 1 meter
Radio Wave1 millimeter - 100,000 kilometers

Gamma Rays

Gamma rays are the shortest wavelength of electromagnetic radiation that are caused by radioactive decay. These have a dramatic effect on matter and are difficult to shield. As such, gamma rays can penetrate the entire body and cause damage to cells and genetic material.


The range of x-rays overlaps with gamma rays. These are also a penetrating high-energy type of radiation. X-Rays interact with matter and have negative health implications.

Ultraviolet Light

Ultraviolet light is present in sunlight and represents about 10% of the Sun's light output. The low wavelength range of ultraviolet light is ionizing radiation. Causes sunburn.

Ionizing Radiation

Radiation with sufficient energy to ionize an atom or a molecule. This means that in can electrically charge matter with broad implications such as triggering chemical and physical reactions. Exposure to ionizing radiation has significant negative effects on health. All x-rays and gamma rays are ionizing. Some ultraviolet light is also ionizing.

Non-ionizing Radiation

Radiation with insufficient energy to ionize matter. This still has some effect on matter as it can move electrons in matter to a higher energy state.

Visible Light

The small band of wavelengths that can be perceived by humans as colors of light. These can further be divided into bands by color. Over 40% of the sunlight that reaches the Earth is visible light.


A broad range of light that can't be perceived by humans. Over 50% of the Sun's light falls into this range. Humans can potentially see infrared light when it is focused into a beam by a device such as a laser.


A common term for relatively short radio waves. Commonly used by communication, network and sensor technologies. Also famously used to cook food in microwave ovens. Microwaves are absorbed by water but pass through many other materials such that these ovens heat food while leaving many ceramics or plastics relatively cool. The wavelengths considered microwave are defined inconsistently by different standards.

Radio Waves

A broad term for all long wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. These can be thousands of kilometers long but still move at the speed of light through a vacuum.
Overview: Electromagnetic Spectrum
Wavelengths and frequencies of electromagnetic radiation that consist of massless particles known as a photons.
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Robert F. Cleveland. "Questions and Answers About Biological Effects and Potential Hazards of Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields." Federal Communications Commission, 1999.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Introductory Article on the Electromagnetic Spectrum, 2013.
Mehta, Akul. "Introduction to the electromagnetic spectrum and spectroscopy." Analytical Chemistry, 2011.


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