The Amazing Photon

I watched a show recently that reviewed the journey a single photon makes through the sun before it is emitted as visible light; a journey that makes the effort of a salmon to leap a hundred miles of roaring rapids look like a leisurely stroll. Scientists believe photons are elementary particles, the primary and smallest building block of light and all other electromagnetic radiation. Having virtually no mass they are nonetheless the carrier of the electromagnetic force, and the main source of energy that powers the solar system, illuminates the universe and sustains all life. The photon’s odyssey begins in the core of the sun, the result of the fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium, in the form of powerful and to us deadly gamma rays. It then makes a circuitous journey through hundreds of thousands of miles of gas compressed by gravity to the point of being denser than lead, slamming into and being absorbed by electrons that return the favor by releasing and hurling them outward again in a violent and random process that repeats itself billions of times until each photon approaches the final layers as an X-ray. As it nears the surface it is buffeted by magnetic winds and swirling plasma until it is finally freed to journey outward as a visible light photon. The journey to Earth is perhaps eight minutes at 186,000 miles per second, but the entire process takes between 100,000 to 1,000,000 earth years. So, as photographic artists, we are actually using stuff that was created before man stood upright to make our art. And painters think oils or acrylics are cool.

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