Science, Tech, Math › Science Ultraviolet Radiation Definition Chemistry Glossary Definition of Ultraviolet Radiation Share Flipboard Email Print Ultraviolet light is invisible, but black lights or UV-lamps also emit some visible violet light. Cultura RM Exclusive/Matt Lincoln / Getty Images Science Chemistry Chemical Laws Basics Molecules Periodic Table Projects & Experiments Scientific Method Biochemistry Physical Chemistry Medical Chemistry Chemistry In Everyday Life Famous Chemists Activities for Kids Abbreviations & Acronyms Biology Physics Geology Astronomy Weather & Climate by Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. Dr. Helmenstine holds a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences and is a science writer, educator, and consultant. She has taught science courses at the high school, college, and graduate levels. Updated December 03, 2018 Ultraviolet radiation is another name for ultraviolet light. It is a part of the spectrum outside the visible range, just beyond the visible violet portion. Ultraviolet Radiation Definition Ultraviolet radiation is electromagnetic radiation or light having a wavelength greater than 100 nm but less than 400 nm. It is also known as UV radiation, ultraviolet light, or simply UV. Ultraviolet radiation has a wavelength longer than that of x-rays but shorter than that of visible light. Although ultraviolet light is energetic enough to break some chemical bonds, it is not (usually) considered a form of ionizing radiation. The energy absorbed by molecules can provide the activation energy to start chemical reactions and may cause some materials to fluoresce or phosphoresce. The word "ultraviolet" means "beyond violet". Ultraviolet radiation was discovered by the German physicist Johann Wilhelm Ritter in 1801. Ritter noticed invisible light beyond the violet portion of the visible spectrum darkened silver chloride treated paper more quickly than violet light. He called the invisible light "oxidizing rays", referring to the chemical activity of the radiation. Most people used the phrase "chemical rays" until the end of the 19th century, when "heat rays" became known as infrared radiation and "chemical rays" became ultraviolet radiation. Sources of Ultraviolet Radiation About 10 percent of the light output of the Sun is UV radiation. When sunlight enters the Earth's atmosphere, the light is about 50% infrared radiation, 40% visible light, and 10% ultraviolet radiation. However, the atmosphere blocks about 77% of solar UV light, mostly in shorter wavelengths. Light reaching the Earth's surface is about 53% infrared, 44% visible, and 3% UV. Ultraviolet light is produced by black lights, mercury-vapor lamps, and tanning lamps. Any sufficiently hot body emits ultraviolet light (black-body radiation). Thus, stars hotter than the Sun emit more UV light. Categories of Ultraviolet Light Ultraviolet light is broken into several ranges, as described by ISO standard ISO-21348: Name Abbreviation Wavelength (nm) Photon Energy (eV) Other Names Ultraviolet A UVA 315-400 3.10–3.94 long-wave, black light (not absorbed by ozone) Ultraviolet B UVB 280-315 3.94–4.43 medium-wave (mostly absorbed by ozone) Ultraviolet C UVC 100-280 4.43–12.4 short-wave (completely absorbed by ozone) Near ultraviolet NUV 300-400 3.10–4.13 visible to fish, insects, birds, some mammals Middle ultraviolet MUV 200-300 4.13–6.20 Far ultraviolet FUV 122-200 6.20–12.4 Hydrogen Lyman-alpha H Lyman-α 121-122 10.16–10.25 spectral line of hydrogen at 121.6 nm; ionizing at shorter wavelengths Vacuum ultraviolet VUV 10-200 6.20–124 absorbed by oxygen, yet 150-200 nm can travel through nitrogen Extreme ultraviolet EUV 10-121 10.25–124 actually is ionizing radiation, although absorbed by the atmosphere Seeing UV Light Most people cannot see ultraviolet light, however, this is not necessarily because the human retina can't detect it. The lens of the eye filters UVB and higher frequencies, plus most people lack the color receptor to see the light. Children and young adults are more likely to perceive UV than older adults, but people missing a lens (aphakia) or who have had a lens replaced (as for cataract surgery) may see some UV wavelengths. People who can see UV report it as a blue-white or violet-white color. Insects, birds, and some mammals see near-UV light. Birds have true UV vision, as they have a fourth color receptor to perceive it. Reindeer are an example of a mammal that sees UV light. They use it to see polar bears against snow. Other mammals use ultraviolet to see urine trails to track prey. Ultraviolet Radiation and Evolution Enzymes used to repair DNA in mitosis and meiosis are believed to have developed from early repair enzymes that were designed to fix damage caused by ultraviolet light. Earlier in Earth's history, prokaryotes could not survive on the Earth's surface because exposure to UVB caused adjacent thymine base pair to bind together or form thymine dimers. This disruption was fatal to the cell because it shifted the reading frame used to replicate genetic material and produce proteins. Prokaryotes that escaped protective aquatic life developed enzymes to repair thymine dimers. Even though the ozone layer eventually formed, protecting cells from the worst of the solar ultraviolet radiation, these repair enzymes remain. Sources Bolton, James; Colton, Christine (2008). The Ultraviolet Disinfection Handbook. American Water Works Association. ISBN 978-1-58321-584-5.Hockberger, Philip E. (2002). "A History of Ultraviolet Photobiology for Humans, Animals and Microorganisms". Photochemistry and Photobiology. 76 (6): 561–569. doi:10.1562/0031-8655(2002)0760561AHOUPF2.0.CO2Hunt, D. M.; Carvalho, L. S.; Cowing, J. A.; Davies, W. L. (2009). "Evolution and spectral tuning of visual pigments in birds and mammals". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 364 (1531): 2941–2955. doi:10.1098/rstb.2009.0044 Continue Reading What Is the Wavelength of Ultraviolet Light? What Is a Black Light? Radiation in Space Gives Clues about the Universe How Do Astronomers Use Light? What Heat Can Tell You about the Planets, Stars, and Galaxies What Is Electromagnetic Radiation? 16 Things That Glow Under Black or Ultraviolet Light What You Need to Know About Microwave Radiation The Visible Light Spectrum Includes the Colors We See Luminosity: the Way Astronomers Measure Brightnesses in Space How Much UV Light Does Glass Really Filter? Understand the Difference Between Fluorescence and Phosphorescence Tips To Throw an Epic Glow Party The Visible Spectrum: Wavelengths and Colors Northern and Southern Lights Aren't Just for Earth What Is Water?