What is the name of the type of
electromagnetic radiation that has the shortest wavelengths?
To begin, recall that the
electromagnetic spectrum is a continuous range of radiation that we can categorize
based on properties like wavelength and energy. Electromagnetic radiation can have
practically any wavelength. And the shortest wavelength that
scientists have observed is about 10 to the negative 20 meters, that is, less than a
quintillionth of a meter. Rays with wavelengths this short
are typically emitted by extreme cosmic phenomena, so they’re sort of a limiting
case. But such high-energy,
short-wavelength radiation falls within the range of what are known as gamma
Many of the gamma rays we observe
here on Earth are a product of nuclear decay when the nucleus of an atom splits
apart and releases energy. Gamma rays have wavelengths around
10 to the negative 12 meters and shorter and are therefore the type of
electromagnetic radiation with the shortest wavelengths.