The visible light portion of the spectrum is tiny compared to the whole thing. Here’s what we’re missing.
When you look at the Milky Way in visible light, you might see billions of stars, but you miss so much more.
The human eye is only sensitive to a tiny fraction of the entire electromagnetic (light) spectrum.
Each wavelength range showcases a novel view of all that’s out there.
Gamma rays: the highest-energy light originates from black holes, neutron stars, nova outbursts, high-energy antimatter-driven bubbles, and supernova remnants.
X-rays: when matter gets heated due to collisions, stellar outflows, cataclysmic events, or acceleration from neutron stars or black holes, X-rays result.
The strongest source of X-rays are supermassive black holes.
Ultraviolet: this light typically reveals hot, newly-formed stars, but it’s lousy for viewing our own galaxy.
There’s simply too much dust, wrecking ultraviolet light’s usefulness.
Visible: This is what we normally see, billions of stars with light-blocking dust.
Infrared: Finally, the previously-obscured stars are revealed.
The long-wavelength nature of IR light makes it transparent to dust.
Mid-IR and far-IR light reveals cooler gas and protostars.
Microwaves: simply show heated dust.
Radio: the lowest-energy light reveals electrons and hydrogen gas.
With so much information, it’s better viewed in individual wavelengths.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical or scientific story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.Ethan Siegel is the author of Beyond the Galaxy and Treknology. You can pre-order his third book, currently in development: the Encyclopaedia Cosmologica.