Ultraviolet (UV) light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength shorter than that of visible light, but longer than X-rays, that is, in the range 10 nm to 400 nm, corresponding to photon energies from 3 eV to 124 eV. It is so-named because the spectrum consists of electromagnetic waves with frequencies higher than those that humans identify as the colour violet. These frequencies are invisible to humans, but visible to a number of insects and birds.
UV light is found in sunlight (where it constitutes about 10% of the energy in vacuum) and is emitted by electric arcs and specialized lights such as black lights. It can cause chemical reactions, and causes many substances to glow or fluoresce. Most ultraviolet is classified as non-ionizing radiation. The higher energies of the ultraviolet spectrum from wavelengths about 10 nm to 120 nm ('extreme' ultraviolet) are ionizing, but this type of ultraviolet in sunlight is blocked by normal dioxygen in air, and does not reach the ground. However, the entire spectrum of ultraviolet radiation has some of the biological features of ionizing radiation, in doing far more damage to many molecules in biological systems than is accounted for by simple heating effects (an example is sunburn). These properties derive from the ultraviolet photon's power to alter chemical bonds in molecules, even without having enough energy to ionize atoms.
Although ultraviolet radiation is invisible to the human eye, most people are aware of the effects of UV on the skin, called suntan and sunburn. In addition to short wave UV blocked by oxygen, a great deal (>97%) of mid-range ultraviolet (almost all UV above 280 nm and most above 315 nm) is blocked by the ozone layer, and like ionizing short wave UV, would cause much damage to living organisms if it penetrated the atmosphere. After atmospheric filtering, only about 3% of the total energy of sunlight at the zenith is ultraviolet, and this fraction decreases at other sun angles. Much of it is near-ultraviolet that does not cause sunburn. An even smaller fraction of ultraviolet that reaches the ground is responsible for sunburn and also the formation of vitamin D (peak production occurring between 295 and 297 nm) in all organisms that make this vitamin (including humans). The UV spectrum thus has many effects, both beneficial and damaging, to human health.
Read more about Ultraviolet: Discovery, Origin of The Term, Subtypes, Detecting and Measuring UV Radiation, Human Health-related Effects of UV Radiation, Degradation of Polymers, Pigments and Dyes, Blockers and Absorbers, Applications of UV, Evolutionary Significance
Famous quotes containing the word ultraviolet:
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