Gamma Rays Lesson for Kids: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Shoshana Yarin

Shoshana has taught all grades with an emphasis in science and has a master's degree in science.

What do light, nuclear bombs, outer space, and superheros have in common? They all have some kind of relationship with gamma rays. To learn more about gamma rays, read on!

What Exactly Are Gamma Rays?

How did the Hulk get his superhero powers? As the story goes, he saved a teenager from a gamma bomb blast, but got hit with it himself. Though the Hulk is make-believe, gamma rays are not.

Gamma rays are kind-of like light, which is a form of energy that travels in waves. Gamma rays have a LOT more energy than light and you cannot see them.

Any energy that travels in waves is a form of radiation and is part of the electromagnetic spectrum. That sounds like a lot of big words, but the electromagnetic spectrum is just the whole range of energy that travels in waves. It includes energy such as light, radio, microwaves, x-rays, and gamma rays. Gamma rays are at the highest end of the spectrum and have the most energy.

Gamma Rays on the Electromagnetic Spectrum
Electromagnetic Spectrum

The incredible amount of energy in gamma rays comes from very short wavelengths. A wavelength is the measurement from one wave to the next. Since all radiation travels at the same speed, the short wavelength of gamma rays means a whole lot of waves go by in a short amount of time. Imagine slowly shaking a rope to make waves. Big slow waves might be like radio waves. Now imagine shaking that rope as fast as you can. That would be like gamma rays!

Where Do Gamma Rays Come From?

We find gamma rays in outer space. Fortunately for us, our atmosphere protects us from them. In fact, it was 1961 when the first telescope (Explorer XI) got above our atmosphere and picked up the first gamma rays. They can come from supernova explosions or things like black holes. Some radioactive materials in space can also break down to produce gamma rays.

Gamma Rays from a Black Hole
Gamma Rays

Gamma rays can be produced here on Earth from a nuclear explosion or by the nucleus of a radioactive atom.

What Do Gamma Rays Do?

Gamma rays can kill cells in animals (including humans) so it is sometimes used in the medical world to kill cancer cells. It's pretty dangerous stuff and is only used by professional medical doctors.

Gamma Cancer Treatment
Gamma Treatment

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