wavelength and color

Visible light is light that has wavelengths that can be detected by the human eye. The wavelength of visible light determines the color that the light appears. As you can see in the Figure 1.1, light with the longest wavelength appears red, and light with the shortest wavelength appears violet. In between are all the other colors of light that we can see. Only seven main colors of light are actually represented in the diagram.

the colors we see

The human eye can distinguish only red, green, and blue light. These three colors are called the primary colors of light. All other colors of light can be created by combining the primary colors. Look at the Venn diagram 1.5. Red and green light combine to form yellow light. Red and blue light combine to form magenta light, and blue and green light combine to form cyan light. Yellow, magenta, and cyan are called the secondary colors of light. Look at the center of the diagram, where all three primary colors of light combine. The result is white light.



Many objects have color because they contain pigments. A pigment is a substance that colors materials by reflecting light of certain wavelengths and absorbing light of other wavelengths. A very common pigment is the dark green pigment called chlorophyll, which is found in plants. Chlorophyll absorbs all but green wavelengths of visible light. Pigments are also found in many manufactured products. They are used to color paints, inks, and dyes. Just three pigments, called primary pigments, can be combined to produce all other colors. The primary colors of pigments are the same as the secondary colors of light: cyan, magenta, and yellow. Q: A color printer needs just three colors of ink to print all of the colors that we can see. Which colors are they? A: The three colors of ink in a color printer are the three primary pigment colors: cyan, magenta, and yellow. These three colors can be combined in different ratios to produce all other colors, so they are the only colors needed for full-color printing.

colors of objects

An opaque object is one that doesnt let light pass through it. Instead, it reflects or absorbs the light that strikes it. Many objects, such as the leaves pictured in the Figure 1.3, reflect just one or a few wavelengths of visible light and absorb the rest. The wavelengths that are reflected determine the color that an object appears to the human eye. For example, the leaves appear green because they reflect green light and absorb light of other wavelengths. A transparent or translucent material, such as window glass, transmits some or all of the light that strikes it. This means that the light passes through the material rather than being reflected by it. In this case, we see the material because of the transmitted light. Therefore, the wavelength of the transmitted light determines the color that the object appears. Look at the beautiful stained glass windows in the Figure 1.4. The different colors of glass transmit The color of light that strikes an object may also affect the color that the object appears. For example, if only blue light strikes green leaves, the blue light is absorbed and no light is reflected. Q: What color do you see if an object absorbs all of the light that strikes it? A: When all of the light is absorbed, none is reflected, so the object looks black. But black isnt a color of light. Black is the absence of light.



separating colors of light

A prism, like the one in the Figure 1.2, can be used to separate visible light into its different colors. A prism is a pyramid-shaped object made of transparent matter, usually clear glass or plastic. Matter that is transparent allows light to pass through it. A prism transmits light but slows it down. When light passes from air to the glass of the prism, the change in speed causes the light to change direction and bend. Different wavelengths of light bend at different angles. This makes the beam of light separate into light of different wavelengths. What we see is a rainbow of colors. Q: Look back at the rainbow that opened this article. Do you see all the different colors of light, from red at the top to violet at the bottom? What causes a rainbow to form? A: Individual raindrops act as tiny prisms. They separate sunlight into its different wavelengths and create a rainbow of colors.



instructional diagrams

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a rainbow includes all the colors of visible light.

-->  a. true

b. false

visible light includes all the wavelengths of light that the human eye can detect.

-->  a. true

b. false

leaves appear green because they

a) absorb only green light.

-->  b) reflect only green light.

c) transmit only green light.

d) none of the above

if only blue light strikes green leaves, the leaves appear

a) green.

b) blue.

-->  c) black.

d) white.

primary colors of light include

-->  a) red.

b) cyan.

c) magenta.

d) all of the above

primary colors of pigments include

-->  a) yellow.

b) blue.

c) green.

d) none of the above

diagram questions

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