Scientists Say: Luminescence | Science News for Students

Scientists Say: Luminescence

This word describes a glow that occurs without heat
Nov 13, 2017 — 6:30 am EST
crystal jelly
This crystal jelly glows with the help of a protein that reacts with calcium to emit blue light.
Sierra Blakeley/Wikimedia Commons

Luminescence (noun, “Loo-men-ESS-scents”)

This is the production of light with little or no production of heat. Many common items that produce light, such as light bulbs and matches, do so through incandescence. That’s light produced as a result of heat. But luminescence is light that is produced by a chemical or electrical reaction. This light is produced at lower temperatures — such as those in living organisms. And some organisms, such as jellyfish and fireflies, actually have specialty chemicals that produce light.

Light produced by a living organism is called bioluminescence. When light comes from a chemical reaction, it’s known as chemiluminescence. And light that occurs when an electrical current moves through something is called electroluminescence.

In a sentence

Designers can make the spacesuit for a future Mars mission light up with the help of luminescence. 

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Power Words

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bioluminescence     The light emitted by certain animals — such as fireflies, squid and deep-sea fishes — and by some shallow-water algae.

chemical     A substance formed from two or more atoms that unite (bond) in a fixed proportion and structure. For example, water is a chemical made when two hydrogen atoms bond to one oxygen atom. Its chemical formula is H2O. Chemical also can be an adjective to describe properties of materials that are the result of various reactions between different compounds.

chemical reaction     A process that involves the rearrangement of the molecules or structure of a substance, as opposed to a change in physical form (as from a solid to a gas).

chemiluminescence  The emission of light from a chemical reaction. 

current     A fluid — such as of water or air — that moves in a recognizable direction. (in electricity) The flow of electricity or the amount of electricity moving through some point over a particular period of time.

electroluminescence     The process by which the passage of an electric current through some semiconductors will discharge some energy as visible light.

luminescence     The glow produced by a chemical or electrical process that doesn’t require producing heat. Some animals are able to luminesce, based on chemical reactions ins ide their bodies.

Mars     The fourth planet from the sun, just one planet out from Earth. Like Earth, it has seasons and moisture. But its diameter is only about half as big as Earth’s.

organism     Any living thing, from elephants and plants to bacteria and other types of single-celled life.