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Visible Light and Why We See Colors

Updated on July 25, 2010

There is such a variety of colors in our lives; from the reds, oranges and yellows to the greens, blues and purples, and every shade in between. Life would be very dull without all the beautiful colors.

Public Domain Image. NASA
Public Domain Image. NASA
Author photo.
Author photo.

What is Visible Light?

Visible light is the electromagnetic waves of light visible to the human eye. When all are present, we see white light. When white light shines through a prism it is broken into the colors of the visible light spectrum. Water vapor in the atmosphere can also break apart wavelengths. That’s why we see rainbows.

Lengths of light waves starting with the longest and proceeding to the shortest: red (650 nm), orange (590 nm), yellow (570 nm), green (510 nm), blue (475 nm), indigo (445 nm) and violet (400 nm). A nanometer is the unit of measure used to describe wavelengths. One nanometer is equal to one billionth of a meter which is 39.37 inches. So we are talking about very small lengths.


Why Do We See Different Colors?

An object may absorb some of the waves and reflect others. We see only the ones it reflects. If it absorbs all of the wavelengths we will see black. If it is reflecting all of the wavelengths, we will see white. All of the other colors are combinations of reflected/absorbed wavelengths and how the receptors in our eyes capture them and how the brain interprets them.

Appreciate Your Colorful World!

Color enriches our lives in so many ways. It can set a mood, tell us if our food is ripe, and lets us express ourselves with our clothing or our home decorating. It helps us appreciate the beauty of our planet. 


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    • ArtByLinda profile image

      Linda Hoxie 

      4 years ago from Idaho

      This is so interesting. My daughter and I were just discussing this morning how color is affected by light. Thank you for the education!

    • Rose Kolowinski profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Kolowinski 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for stopping by Mheryl. Appreciate the time you took to read and comment!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hello! Nice hub. I like it so much and it is so interesting. Really good for children :) Great day ahead.

    • Rose Kolowinski profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Kolowinski 

      7 years ago

      Thank you lanea for taking the time to read and comment.

    • lanealanea profile image


      7 years ago from Orange County, California

      Like your hub alot. You have to check my how colors affect us hub I wrote. Cool, I am going to read another of your interesting hubs, :-) Have a great day

    • Rose Kolowinski profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Kolowinski 

      8 years ago

      Thanks, Nell. Appreciate your views and comments!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      8 years ago from England

      Hi, this is really interesting, I always forget how light and colour works in the spectrum, this will be really helpful to children learning about colour, cheers nell


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