How It Works

How do atoms emit light?

Light is the result of electrons moving between defined energy levels in an atom, called shells. When something excites an atom, such as a collision with another atom or a chemical electron, an electron may absorb the energy, boosting it up to a higher-level shell. The boost is short-lived, however, and the electron immediately falls back down to the lower level, emitting its extra energy in the form of an electromagnetic energy packet called a photon. The wavelength of the photon depends on the distance of the electron’s fall. Some wavelengths, such as radio waves, are invisible. Photons with wavelengths in the visible spectrum form all the colours that we can see.