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Einstein and the Quantum by A. Douglas Stone

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APPENDIX 2: THE THREE THERMAL RADIATION LAWS

OVERVIEW

All objects emit electromagnetic radiation because they contain some amount of thermal energy that excites some of their atoms and molecules, at any one time, to higher energy states. These excited atoms and molecules then emit radiation (photons) and fall back down to their lowest (ground) state, while others are continually being excited, which maintains energy balance (thermal equilibrium). The amount of thermal energy an object has increases with its temperature, and so it emits more energetic, higher-frequency radiation as its temperature increases. But thermal radiation, unlike radio waves or laser light, for example, is not emitted at a single frequency; it is emitted over a broad band ...

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