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What is Light?
People say “light” is a wave. People say “light” is just energy. People say “light” has no mass. These people are wrong. These statements are half truths.
Light is made up of particles.
A single “corpuscle” of light is a photon. A photon acts like a single particle. But it is actually made of two particles with mass.
(The description, corpuscle, is from Isaac Newton. Corpuscle, before biology, is historically defined as a “minute particle regarded as the basic content of matter and light.” Newton is credited as the first to correctly guess the world was made up of particles later named atoms, photons, etc.)
It is not a wave. The two particles travel in the motion of a wave pattern. But a photon is a two-particle thing. It is not just energy.
Photons of different wavelength are made up of the same two-particle unit. Different wavelengths will go deeper into a material, because a small diameter spin in a photon can travel more distance before it encounters an atom. But different light wavelengths have the same energy and speed. Why? Because they are made up of the same two-particle matter.
Therefore, a photon is much more complex. It has mass. Things (particles) are influenced by gravity.
Again, a photon is a thing…actually two things with mass. A photon is an electron and its anti-electron. The particles are attracted to each other and spin around each other as they travel forward or through space. This makes a wave like motion.
An electron is a negative charged particle.
But when an electron spins backwards, its polarity changes to positive. This “antimatter particle” is today known as a positron.
It is an electron spinning backwards. It is the electron’s positive twin. Linked together, an electron and a positron, attract each other, negative spinning around positive. They become tightly bonded and are not influenced by fields as together there is no charge. They become a photon. But they are influenced by gravity.
(The spinning backwards electron turns into what Max Plank found as energy quanta. His equation defining more energy in shorter wavelengths explains depth of penetration. There really is not more energy. The photon just slips further into a material before it encounters an atom. Ultraviolet has a short spin diameter between the electron and the positron. Infrared has a longer spin diameter. Therefore, UV will travel further past other atoms. The electron and positron are the same. It is the same “particle”, the same quantum mechanics, the same mass, the same forward speed…only the diameter between the two particles is different. Paul Dirac’s equations proved the same results. He continually discovered both a positive and negative answer in his equations. He declared the positron as antimatter, because it was the opposite of known electrons.
For the purposes of preserving objects like documents and art, the wavelength has the same energy to break apart molecules. But IR damage tends to happen at the surface. The larger diameter encounters atoms more easily. UV damage tends to happen further inside an object as the smaller diameter slips past more molecules before it encounters an atom.)
The electron and positron rotate around each other.
The distance between the particles determines the wavelength. The particles are tightly linked together as a pair…and are traveling at such a high speed in forward motion as they spin around each other that often a photon is called simply a “particle” of light or a corpuscle of light. But every photon is always a two-particle unit.
A Photon Is an Electron and a Positron
Since the negative and positive charges balance, the photon has no charge. It is neutral. It can be controlled by orbital mechanics. It can be swayed by gravity. That is how optical lenses and LED holes work. But it cannot be influenced by fields. It travels at roughly 186,000 miles per second.
Looking at the leading electron, its motion is like a wave. When talking about light, the wavelength is described in nanometers. Photons that spin below 380 nm are ultraviolet. Photons between 380 nm and 770 nm are visible to the human eye. Photons above 770 nm are infrared.
Some lighting laymen try to divide photons between 770 nm to 900 nm/1100 nm and 1000 nm plus. They make an arbitrary, non-science-based division between photons below and above a 900 nm or 1100 nm threshold. The marketing idea is that infrared is light from 770 nm to some fuzzy point of 900 nm to 1100 nm where the LED spectral output charts stop data. All this light between is infrared. Light above IR is heat. So the lamp has zero IR, but it has heat and a lot of heat above 1200 nm. This quasi-science lets lighting manufactures state a light is without IR even though it has heat sinks and heat by their own definition.
But quantum theory and even basic science states all photons above 770 nm are infrared. IR is heat. Heat is IR. They mean the same thing. So beware of spectral data curves that stop at 900 nm. They probably do not show all the light source’s output.
(Many LED lamps are said to be “without IR”. The manufacturer claims that there are zero photons from 770 nm to 1100 nm. But LED output shows 70% or more of the photons generated are above 1100 nm. This makes a “without IR” claim marketing puffery. Science contradicts the claim. If a lamp has fins, heat sinks, a built in fan, is required to be operated in open air, or is hot to the touch, that is an empirical clue that there is an abundance of IR generated by the source.)
Wavelength becomes less descriptive when photons have very tight couplings. The very short distance between the electron and positron makes them travel through more and more materials. To describe that these photons travel through the wider spaces of molecules more easily, the mechanics of the photon are less emphasized and the light is described as electromagnetic radiation. An example is x-rays at 0.01 nm to 10 nanometers. Photons that are x-rays clear down to gamma rays and possibly neutrinos need to be identified as they are harder to control. Therefore, physicists use frequency to describe the wave patterns of photons, even those located around the “light” humans see.
But to be clear, all these forms of radiation are still light. They are photons. Every instrument made to detect small amounts of light (radiation) have proved the same fact. Light (radiation) is all made up of particles.
(Is a neutrino a photon? Physicists debate. If it is a photon, the coupling and distance between the electron and positron are so tight and close, the particles as a system are near impossible to observe and since a neutrino will pass through the spaces of matter as if it wasn’t there, a neutrino is near impossible to capture or break apart. A scientific group cut apart a battleship, stacked the steel, and captured a few neutrinos at the other end. They still had a hard time detecting what they actually absorbed. Neutrinos are tricky, little particles and light may actually be clouds of particles working as a unit as what we observe as a single electron and a single positron. No one knows. NoUVIR personally thinks a neutrino is a photon. NoUIVR also thinks an electron and positron are particle systems acting as a unit. Some day the question may be solved. The focus here is to give you a working, basic framework of the science, so you can apply science in a way to protect artifacts and so you can sort lighting products. We want to save our national treasures…one artifact at a time.)
The idea is for you to know photons are particles in motion. Light is not a wave. Light does not come in different energy levels. All light has the same structure and mass.
The genius physicist, Dr. Richard Feynman, made it very clear to his students. “I want to emphasize that light comes in this form - particles. It is very important to know that light behaves like particles, especially for those of you who have gone to school, where you were probably told something about light behaving like waves. I’m telling you the way it does behave - like particles…light is made of particles.” (Feynman, QED, 1985, pg 15.)
A photon is an electron and a positron, spinning around each other, coupled and moving at light speed. What happens when these particles hit something?
FOR YOUNG STUDENTS: For a long, long time light was fire. “Light” a fire and you can see. Fire makes photons your eyes use to see.
But fire also produces photons you can feel. Those photons can cook things and even burn things. So light can harm.
That is why a couch fades, a poster turns blue or a doll can crack. In a museum the things inside are treasures. We want to see them. We want to enjoy them. But we do not want them to fade or yellow or crack. So the light needs to be safe “fire”. The light needs to be made of the photons people use to see. But the light should not have heat. The light should not cook artifacts.
FOR UNIVERSITY STUDENTS: No matter how many times you have read Feynman’s QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, never argue with a professor. Never! A student can’t win. Learn all you can. Stretch your mind. But note there are schools that still teach wave theory. The mathematics of waves works so well for making devices like lights, lenses, computers, conductors, etc. that wave theory is dying a very, very slow death. To make your life even more complicated, today there are a number of leading-edge schools that deal in highly theoretical physics heavily based on mathematical computer models. Hey, it gets papers published and is a lot of fun. But the problem with computer programs is that it is very hard to describe the real complexity of our physical world, let alone implement real world experiments to test these theories. So there are multiple dimensions and mass appearing and disappearing in space and even Schrodinger’s cat. But we do know light behaves as particles and is made of particles. Period. Again, reread the quote above from Feynman. But be sensible how you talk about photons. They are magical, amazing, mind blowing, complex, little particles that can get you into a lot of trouble in a university.
REFERENCES: See the pdf files for published papers with formal documentation of quotes, references, source materials for further reading and test procedures. Look at the top of the home page at PEER-REVIEWED SCIENCE.