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June 6, 2010

I Am Light

Special thanks to the Jet Propulsion Lab, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with NASA.

June 07, 2010|By Diane Fisher

Though there's much to me you never will see

I surround you and pound you. You never can flee.

Without me you'd starve, be blinded and cold.

The oceans would freeze and darkness take hold.

I am light!

And very little of me

Is all that your poor eyes ever will see.

You will never make out the radio waves

From broadcasting towers and cell phones . . . and space.

The infrared rays from the warmth of your knuckles

Look as dim to you as those from your buckles.

You see no ultraviolet, from stars or from Sun.

And x-rays, to you, there might well be none!

I am light!

I am waves. Some are short. Some are long.

The long ones are weak and the short ones are strong.

The long ones, the radio waves, are quite tired.

The short ones, the gamma and x-rays, are wired.

No matter my mood, when I'm traveling through space,

I always proceed at the same speedy pace.

For I set the limit, the maximum speed,

That everything moving in space has to heed.

I am light!

I am waves. But I'm particles too!

I am packets of energy called photons. And you

Can probably guess that they hold different sums

Of pep and pizzazz. Like waves, some are glum,

Like photons of radio energy-they're weary.

But infrared photons are often quite cheery.

Ultraviolet bundles will scorch even you,

While photons of x-rays will zip right on through!

I am light.

But what's that? Should I make up my mind?

Am I wave? Am I particle? Am I both all combined?

What works is what matters. You've figured that out.

You know what I do. How I act, you've no doubt.

I am light!

No, you do not see me well.

It's within just a visible light world you dwell.

But through some new windows you now see some clues

That would otherwise ever be hidden from view-

Of all that is beauty and mystery sublime

From far, far away and far back in time.

For now you have sensors to see all my forms

From cool cosmic clouds to bright solar storms.

You've learned how to see me, in every disguise.

All my beauty, my mystery, you see with new eyes.

Your old eyes were small, they had boundaries and limits.

Now curiosity reigns, and nothing can dim it!

One set of our new eyes is the Galaxy Evolution Explorer, which sees the universe in ultraviolet light. Play "Photon Pile-up," and help this special space telescope gather ultraviolet and other photons to make pictures of beautiful galaxies and the glowing remains of exploded stars. Go to spaceplace.nasa.gov/galex/photons.

This article was written by Diane K. Fisher and provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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