Taking Light beyond the Bulb

Now that we’ve flipped the calendar page to January, it’s a chance to celebrate that 2015 has been declared the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015) by the United Nations. We don’t take this opportunity – pardon the pun – lightly.  This is for several reasons. First, our jobs revolve around light.  We work for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, which is a telescope in space that observes X-rays from the Universe. X-rays are a kind of light. In fact, there are many different kinds of light, but only one that the human eye can detect naturally (called optical, or “visible,” light).

Many kinds of light: This illustration shows the range of the electromagnetic spectrum, in order of increasing frequency or energy, from radio waves, to microwave, to infrared, to visible or optical, to ultraviolet, to X rays, to gamma rays. (Photo Credits: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss)

This brings us to a second driving force for IYL 2015: there are countless ways that light in its many forms impacts us every day.  We can imagine sunlight streaming in through a window in the morning, but beyond that, light is also responsible for our news delivered on the radio and the phone call that just arrived on our cell. From the mundane to the majestic, light is all around us.  It can do amazing things.

We didn’t want to let IYL 2015 pass us by, so we have developed a project with key partners that can help anyone and everyone learn about light. We call the project  “Light: Beyond the Bulb”, and the goal of this online collection of beautiful images is to showcase the enormous spectrum of things that light does. Keep in mind, this program provides just a sample. It would be impossible to represent everything that light can do, but the collection provides some of the most stunning examples we could find: from brain imaging to bioluminescence, from lasers to light pollution, and from auroras to astronomy.

The glow of a candle, the rise of the Sun, and the illumination of a lamp are things that can bring comfort and warmth to our lives. But there is much more to light than meets the eye. Light takes on many forms that are largely invisible and undetectable without modern technology. Light allows us to communicate, entertain, explore, and understand the world we inhabit and the Universe we live in. (Photo Credits: IYL 2015/Light Beyond the Bulb. Individual images shown are featured athttp://lightexhibit.org/photoindex.html)

The goal of Light: Beyond the Bulb is to share these images and stories about light both online and also as physical displays. We want to have displays not just in science centers or schools, but also in more everyday situations such as at bus stops, public parks, cafes, malls, libraries and beyond. So if you, as an individual, or your school, business, or organization would like to sponsor and help host an exhibit showcasing light, please let us know.  We’ve come up with some ideas and tips on how to get started here.

The more science we can share, the better. It certainly helps to have the United Nations, UNESCO and all the partners of IYL 2015 as allies in this quest. Please join us in celebrating the International Year of Light. At the end of the day, when the dark has come, we are all still creatures of light.

Kimberly Arcand (left) directs visualizations for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.  Megan Watzke (right) is the science writer for Chandra.  They were the project creators and co-leads for the award-winning From Earth to the Universe open exhibition project of the International Year of Astronomy 2009.

Together with SPIE (the international society for optics and photonics), the Chandra X-ray Center/Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory is leading Light: Beyond the Bulb for the International Year of Light 2015 (IYL 2015). Light: Beyond the Bulb is a cornerstone project for theInternational Astronomical Union. IYL 2015 was declared by the United Nations and is supported by UNESCO.

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