Light: Going Beyond the Bulb

2015 has been declared the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (#IYL2015) by the United Nations. Working for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, a space-based telescope that observes X-rays from the Universe, we talk about light all the time. X-rays are a kind of light. There are many different kinds of light that make up the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to gamma rays, but only one that human eyes can detect naturally (known as optical, or visible, light).

Caption: This illustration shows the full range of the electromagnetic spectrum, in order of increasing frequency or energy, from radio waves, to microwave, to infrared, to visible or optical, to ultraviolet, to X rays, to gamma rays.
Image file:
Image Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

There are countless ways that light in its many forms impacts us every day. We can imagine sunlight streaming in through a window in the morning, but beyond that, light is also responsible for our news delivered on the radio and the phone call that just arrived on our cell. From the mundane to the majestic, light is all around us. It can do amazing things.

We didn’t want to let #IYL2015 pass us by, so we have developed a project with key partners that can help anyone and everyone learn about light. We call the project Light: Beyond the Bulb
, and the goal of this online collection of beautiful images is to showcase the enormous spectrum of things that light does. Keep in mind, this program provides just a sample. It would be impossible to represent everything that light can do, but the collection provides some of the most stunning examples we could find: from brain imaging to bioluminescence, from lasers to light pollution, and from auroras to astronomy.

Caption: There is much more to light than meets the eye. Light takes on many forms that are largely invisible and undetectable without modern technology. Light allows us to communicate, entertain, explore, and understand the world we inhabit and the Universe we live in.

Credit: IYL/Light Beyond the Bulb. Individual images shown are featured at

The goal of Light: Beyond the Bulb is to share these images and stories about light both online and also as physical displays. We want to have displays not just in science centers or schools, but also in more everyday situations such as at bus stops, public parks, cafes, malls, libraries and beyond. So if you, as an individual, or your school, business, or organization would like to sponsor and help host an exhibit showcasing light, please let us know. We’ve come up with some ideas and tips on how to get started.

The more science we can share, the better. It certainly helps to have the United Nations, UNESCO, SPIE, the International Astronomical Union, and all the partners of #IYL2015 as allies in this quest. Please join us in celebrating the International Year of Light. Because at the end of the day, when the dark has come, we are all still creatures of light.

-Megan Watzke & Kimberly Arcand
Chandra X-ray Center/Light: Beyond the Bulb

PS.Another version of this blog was published at

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