What is color?

In “What is light?” we described light as an Electromagnetic wave (or EM wave). Our eyes can see a small section of all of the EM waves around us. The light that we can see is different colors because of how our brain interprets the different wavelengths that our eyes can pick up. If you think of the colors of the rainbow in order from Red to Violet (purple)… Red has a long wavelength and violet has a short one. When waves of all different wavelengths hit our eyes at the same time, our brain interprets it as the color white. When no waves hit our eyes, we call that black.
visible spectrum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, how can things around us be different colors?
atomic puke

Well… EM waves can interact with atoms. The EM waves are sometimes called “photons”. These EM waves (or photons) can be absorbed by electrons and spit back out. This is how our site got the name atomicpuke.com! The electrons of different types of atoms (link) can absorb different EM wavelengths and spit them out in different directions. Something that you see as the color red is red because the electrons in those atoms are absorbing lots red waves and puking them back out in all directions. When that atomic puke hits the cells in our eyes, we see red. So, when you look around, just remember that what you are seeing is atomic puke!

credit: image by Noelle , animation by Mike

What happens to the rest of the EM waves? Some waves may pass through the atoms in the object you are seeing, some waves may become “heat” or what we call infrared waves. Snakes can actually see infrared waves and track their prey by heat!

Learn more with “What is heat!

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