Over the Rainbow: Electromagnetic Trivia

xkcd, electromagnic spectrum, modified

As we’ve periodically addressed during smaller VS competitions, visible light not only forms its own spectrum, but is part of a larger spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. At the lowest end are ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) radio waves with a frequency of just 3 hertz and wavelengths of 100,000 kilometers (you read that right!). At the highest end are gamma rays with a frequency as high as 300 exahertz (that’s 300 x 1018 hertz!) and wavelengths of 1 picometer (1 × 10−12 meters).

If we could see all forms of electromagnetic radiation, would they seem to have colors of their own? Nobody really knows; our closest guess comes from cataract surgery patients who have had their eyes’ natural internal lens removed. Our internal lenses normally block ultraviolet light to protect our retinas, so after cataract surgery some people find themselves able to perceive some portion of the UV range. Supposedly it looks blue-white!

But that’s all we can say on that front. As for why we can only see the EM frequency ranges that we do, scientists have a more solid hypothesis that because most EM frequencies emitted by the sun are blocked by our planet’s atmosphere, there really isn’t any reason for most animals to need to see outside the range of light that makes it down to the ground. Within that range, different animals can see the frequencies that are most useful for finding food and staying safe. Bees, for example, see in the ultraviolet range because UV frequencies are reflected by certain flower petals, helping pollinators to find nectar. Humans, meanwhile, have evolved to best perceive the colors of the fruits and greens that our primate ancestors foraged for millions of years.

However, as the old saying goes, “Whereof one cannot see, one must have science.” Many ingenious works of contemporary physics and engineering have allowed humankind to at least know that there are more EM waves in the world than what our vision shows us. This has allowed for the development of life-changing and life-saving technologies, and even allowed for the electron microscopy that gives us our data sets for Eyewire! So to celebrate the entire electromagnetic spectrum, this week’s trivia event is going to cover every part of it and more!

Trivia How-To: The bot will start firing off questions at 11:00 AM EST on 2/20 and continue until 11:00 AM EST on 2/22, at which point things will finish with a power hour till noon. Submit your answers by typing them into the chat box. Optional: you may submit answers privately by messaging @inquizitor if you do not want other players to see your responses. To do this, type /pm inquizitor before your message.

Swag: The top scoring player will win a tote bag, plus a sticker/magnet set! Second and third place will each also win a sticker/magnet set.

Bonus info is available in your in-game notifications. Good luck!

Artwork by Randall Munroe, CC BY-NC 2.5