550. How does a light bulb work? — DH, Casselberry, FL (and also KH)
In a common incandescent light bulb, an electric current flows through a double-spiral coil of very thin tungsten wire. As the electric charges in the current flow through this tungsten filament, they collide periodically with the tungsten atoms and transfer energy to those tungsten atoms. The current gives up its energy to the tungsten filament and the filament's temperature rises to about 2500° C. While all objects emit thermal radiation, very hot objects emit some of the thermal radiation as visible light. A 2500° C object emits about 12% of its heat as visible light and this is the light that you see coming from the bulb. Most of the remaining heat emerges from the bulb as invisible infrared light or "heat" light. The glass enclosure shields the filament from oxygen because tungsten burns in air.