The discovery of the photon dramatically changed the way in which we understand our galaxy. For centuries, the way in which light travels was incredibly misunderstood. Now that we understand how photons operate, NASA is able to use this information to make groundbreaking observations about space.

What are Photons?

To put it simply, photons are particles of light. For centuries, scientists could not determine whether or not light was a wave or a particle. Now, we know that it is both simultaneously.

The reason why scientists struggled to understand the composition of light was because of the fact that light has refractive properties like a wave. However, they also believed that light consisted of simple units, making it appear to be a particle.

During the last century, Einstein and a group of fellow physicists finally discovered that light was both a particle and a wave. As a result, they discovered that light could be measured in units. These units are known as photons.

What makes photons fascinating is that they have no mass. They also don't possess a charge. Rather, light is a type of energy that can be converted into other types of energy. Because of this unique property, light is able to turn into solar energy that can power electronic devices.

How NASA Can Track Photons

Photons are extremely difficult to track. That's because they are identical to each other in terms of their fundamental properties, lacking a mass as well as an electric charge. However, they can be distinguished from each other by measuring the amount of electric energy that they carry.

While mass and electric charge are considered fundamental properties, electric energy is not. In other words, the amount of electric energy that a photon carries can change at any given point.  How much energy a photon carries will determine its color. Photons that have a high amount of energy will appear blue in color. Meanwhile, photons that are low in energy will appear to be red.

One of the unique things about photons is that the simple act of tracking them changes their properties. Einstein determined that tracking a photon requires the absorption of its electric energy. This discovery supported his quantum theory that states that observing matter changes its properties.

For NASA, understanding photons has allowed us to have a deeper understanding of space. Measuring photons allows us to determine the direction in which space objects are traveling. Also, photons help us observe the rate at which the universe expands. Additionally, because they can be seen from such a great distance, they allow us to record black holes.

How Photons Travel Such Impressive Distances

Because photons don't have a mass, they are uninhibited in their ability to travel. However, as they travel, they will lose some of their electric energy when they make contact with particles of matter.

For example, when photons from the sun reach our planet, they disperse a good amount of electric energy into matter. The simplest way to understand this is to observe how pavement becomes hot on a particularly warm and sunny day.

Because the photons have made contact with the ground, they lose some of their electric energy as it has been absorbed into matter. Therefore, the photon's electric energy has changed.

It's also important to understand that photons travel at the speed of light. Einstein determined that the speed of light cannot be interfered with due to the unique properties that photons possess. That's why light can travel without any limitations.

Again, thanks to Albert Einstein, we understand the unique fundamental properties of light. Thus, this discovery has allowed scientists to make incredible discoveries that have changed the way in which we view the universe.
  • Sep 28, 2021
  • Category: Blog
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