X-ray (noun, “EX RAY”)
X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation.
Electromagnetic radiation is a type of energy. It includes visible light, infrared light, radio waves and other types of energy. All these types of energy travel through space as waves. But they have different wavelengths. (A wavelength is the distance from one peak of a wave to the next.) X-rays have much shorter wavelengths than visible light. They range from about 0.1 to 10 nanometers long. That makes some X-rays shorter than the width of an atom.
X-rays can pass through solid objects. But they can pass through some objects more easily than others. It depends on the density and type of material in the object. For instance, X-rays can pass more easily through muscle and fat than bone. This makes them useful for medical imaging. A machine can send X-rays through a patient’s body to a detector on the other side. Places where the detector receives fewer X-rays reveal where bones are inside the body. That can reveal if someone has broken a bone in their arm or has a cavity in their tooth.
Machines in doctors’ offices aren’t the only things that produce X-rays. Many very hot objects in the universe give off this type of radiation, such as pulsars and exploded stars. Earth’s atmosphere shields us from such high-energy radiation. So scientists must send X-ray telescopes into space to see X-ray-bright objects across the cosmos.
In a sentence
Accretion disks of material spiraling into black holes give off X-rays.
Educators and Parents, Sign Up for The Cheat Sheet
Weekly updates to help you use Science News Explores in the learning environment
Thank you for signing up!
There was a problem signing you up.