Radiant Energy Lesson for Kids: Definition, Facts & Examples

Instructor: Shoshana Yarin

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

Radiant energy is an important part of natural processes here on Earth as well as in modern technology. The sun is a major example of radiant energy, and the function of your remote control is an example of technology use. Learn about this form of energy in this lesson.

What is Radiant Energy?

What's the first thing you think of when you think of the sun; warmth, light, sunburns, blue skies, growing plants? The energy from the sun is an important factor for life on earth. The heat and light we associate with the sun are forms of radiant energy. Energy is the ability to do work, and radiation is energy that travels in waves. There are other forms of radiant energy besides heat and light. All the different forms of radiant energy make up the -electromagnetic spectrum.

What is the Electromagnetic Spectrum?

Have you observed a rainbow after it rains? All those colors of light are a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum and the only part we can see. We see the light from the sun, but don't necessarily see the heat. Heat is known as infrared light. Some of the other forms of radiant energy you may know are ultraviolet light, x-rays, gamma rays, microwaves and radio waves. All these forms of radiant energy travel in waves at the same speed but each forms' waves are different in size. Radio waves are very large, low energy waves traveling through the air (though we can't see them) in comparison to x-rays that are small, high energy waves.

A rainbow is radiant energy we can see

How is it used?

Sir William Crookes discovered the electromagnetic spectrum in 1885. That's over 130 years ago! Scientists are still studying and learning about radiant energy, how it works and how we can use it. Radiant energy is an important part of our world. Telecommunications like wireless networks, remote controls, heating, lighting, and branches of the medical field such as laser surgery and radiation therapy are just a few examples of our current technological uses of radiant energy.

Remote control uses radiant energy

What's Special about Radiant Energy?

Energy travels in different ways. If you touch a hot pan on the stove, you know heat can travel by contact, ouch! This form of heat transfer is known as conduction. Conduction and convection need a material to transfer heat through, radiation does not. All three transfer heat, just in different ways.

Try this: knock on a table and listen to the sound. Now put your ear directly on the table and listen to the knock. The sound is a lot louder! Sound waves are another form of energy that needs a material to travel through.

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