Light, microwaves, x-rays, and TV and radio transmissions are all kinds of electromagnetic waves. They are all the same kind of wavy disturbance that repeats itself over a distance called the wavelength.
Electromagnetic waves are waves which can travel through the vacuum of outer space. Mechanical waves, unlike electromagnetic waves, require the presence of a material medium in order to transport their energy from one location to another. Sound waves are examples of mechanical waves while light waves are examples of electromagnetic waves.
Maxwell’s equations for EM fields far from sources:
James Clerk Maxwell first formally postulated electromagnetic waves. These were subsequently confirmed by Heinrich Hertz. Maxwell derived a wave form of the electric and magnetic equations, thus uncovering the wave-like nature of electric and magnetic fields, and their symmetry. Because the speed of EM waves predicted by the wave equation coincided with the measured speed of light, Maxwell concluded that light itself is an EM wave.
According to Maxwell’s equations, a spatially varying electric field is always associated with a magnetic field that changes over time. Likewise, a spatially varying magnetic field is associated with specific changes over time in the electric field. In an electromagnetic wave, the changes in the electric field are always accompanied by a wave in the magnetic field in one direction, and vice versa. This relationship between the two occurs without either type field causing the other; rather they occur together in the same way that time and space changes occur together and are interlinked in special relativity (In fact, magnetic fields may be viewed as relativistic distortions of electric fields, so the close relationship between space and time changes here is more than an analogy). Together, these fields form a propagating electromagnetic wave, which moves out into space and need never again affect the source. The distant EM field formed in this way by the acceleration of a charge carries energy with it that “radiates” away through space, hence the term for it.
EMR carries energy—sometimes called radiant energy—through space continuously away from the source (this is not true of the near-field part of the EM field). EMR also carries both momentum and angular momentum. These properties may all be imparted to matter with which it interacts. EMR is produced from other types of energy when created, and it is converted to other types of energy when it is destroyed. The photon is the quantum of the electromagnetic interaction, and is the basic “unit” or constituent of all forms of EMR. The quantum nature of light becomes more apparent at high frequencies (or high photon energy). Such photons behave more like particles than lower-frequency photons do.
In classical physics, EMR is considered to be produced when charged particles are accelerated by forces acting on them. Electrons are responsible for emission of most EMR because they have low mass, and therefore are easily accelerated by a variety of mechanisms. Rapidly moving electrons are most sharply accelerated when they encounter a region of force, so they are responsible for producing much of the highest frequency electromagnetic radiation observed in nature. Quantum processes can also produce EMR, such as when atomic nuclei undergo gamma decay, and processes such as neutral pion decay.
EMR is classified according to the frequency of its wave. The electromagnetic spectrum, in order of increasing frequency and decreasing wavelength, consists of radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, visible light, ultraviolet radiation, X-rays and gamma rays. The eyes of various organisms sense a somewhat variable but relatively small range of frequencies of EMR called the visible spectrum or light.
The effects of EMR upon biological systems (and also to many other chemical systems, under standard conditions) depends both upon the radiation’s power and frequency. For lower frequencies of EMR up to those of visible light (i.e., radio, microwave, infrared), the damage done to cells and also to many ordinary materials under such conditions is determined mainly by heating effects, and thus by the radiation power. By contrast, for higher frequency radiations at ultraviolet frequencies and above (i.e., X-rays and gamma rays) the damage to chemical materials and living cells by EMR is far larger than that done by simple heating, due to the ability of single photons in such high frequency EMR to damage individual molecules