How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 1181

Is light a particle or a ray? — CG
Light is both a particle and a ray (a wave). Its wave character was known and understood for many years before its particle character was discovered. That a film of clear soap exhibits colors is one of many demonstrations that light travels as waves, and such demonstrations were well understood in the 19th century. But it wasn't until the early 20th century that people discovered the particle character of light. They found that light is absorbed in discrete packets of energy or quanta, and these quanta of light energy were called photons. As a simple rule of thumb, you can think of light as exhibiting wave-like properties while it's traveling, but particle-like properties when it's being emitted or absorbed. This dual nature of light is complicated but unavoidable; it's a consequence of the quantum mechanical nature of our universe.

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