Tag Archives: radiation

Cherenkov Radiation (or the Photonic Boom)

I’m assuming many of you will know what a sonic boom is, if you travel fast enough through a medium sound waves will compress in front of you and produce a sonic boom. Of course, this only happens if you are traveling at greater than the speed of sound in a given medium. Cherenkov Radiation can be described as the light equivalent of the sonic boom. So here’s (a simplified version of) what happens. Nothing can travel at speeds greater than c, the speed of light in a vacuum, but light in a medium will travel slower than c and in that sense a particle could travel faster than light through that medium, and when a charged particle travels through a medium at a speed greater than light travels through that medium it excites nearby molecules, which in turn emit light. Doing this requires lots of energy, which is why it’s commonly seen in the cooling tanks of nuclear reactors.

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Ultimate Hot

Let’s start this fun fact with something else, black-body radiation. Black-body radiation is light given off by any object with a temperature of more than 0K, or absolute zero (very,very cold). Basically, everything glows, but not necessarily in visible light. Humans glow in infrared, the sun’s surface glows in the visible to ultraviolet range, and the sun’s core glows in the x-ray to gamma radiation range. We can extrapolate on these observations (I’ll be making extensive reference to Wien’s displacement law) to find out when something is absolutely hot, that is, when things are so hot they make no sense in our current models of the physical universe. This point occurs when the black-body radiation that is given off by an object with a temperature around 10^32 Kelvin. For the rest of you out there, that’s so hot your molecules will break apart, the atoms in them will break apart, the nuclei in those will break apart, the protons and neutrons in those will break apart, and that’s it. Physics can predict nothing beyond what is now know as absolute hot.

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