<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >
  • Relate the linear momentum of a photon to its energy or wavelength, and apply linear momentum conservation to simple processes involving the emission, absorption, or reflection of photons.
  • Account qualitatively for the increase of photon wavelength that is observed, and explain the significance of the Compton wavelength.

Measuring photon momentum

The quantum of EM radiation we call a photon    has properties analogous to those of particles we can see, such as grains of sand. A photon interacts as a unit in collisions or when absorbed, rather than as an extensive wave. Massive quanta, like electrons, also act like macroscopic particles—something we expect, because they are the smallest units of matter. Particles carry momentum as well as energy. Despite photons having no mass, there has long been evidence that EM radiation carries momentum. (Maxwell and others who studied EM waves predicted that they would carry momentum.) It is now a well-established fact that photons do have momentum. In fact, photon momentum is suggested by the photoelectric effect, where photons knock electrons out of a substance. [link] shows macroscopic evidence of photon momentum.

(a) Trajectory of a comet with a nucleus and tail as it passes by the Sun is shown as a partial parabolic path with Sun near the vertex of the parabolic path. (b) The photograph of a moving Hale Bopp comet in space is shown as bright lighted object.
The tails of the Hale-Bopp comet point away from the Sun, evidence that light has momentum. Dust emanating from the body of the comet forms this tail. Particles of dust are pushed away from the Sun by light reflecting from them. The blue ionized gas tail is also produced by photons interacting with atoms in the comet material. (credit: Geoff Chester, U.S. Navy, via Wikimedia Commons)

[link] shows a comet with two prominent tails. What most people do not know about the tails is that they always point away from the Sun rather than trailing behind the comet (like the tail of Bo Peep’s sheep). Comet tails are composed of gases and dust evaporated from the body of the comet and ionized gas. The dust particles recoil away from the Sun when photons scatter from them. Evidently, photons carry momentum in the direction of their motion (away from the Sun), and some of this momentum is transferred to dust particles in collisions. Gas atoms and molecules in the blue tail are most affected by other particles of radiation, such as protons and electrons emanating from the Sun, rather than by the momentum of photons.

Connections: conservation of momentum

Not only is momentum conserved in all realms of physics, but all types of particles are found to have momentum. We expect particles with mass to have momentum, but now we see that massless particles including photons also carry momentum.

Momentum is conserved in quantum mechanics just as it is in relativity and classical physics. Some of the earliest direct experimental evidence of this came from scattering of x-ray photons by electrons in substances, named Compton scattering after the American physicist Arthur H. Compton (1892–1962). Around 1923, Compton observed that x rays scattered from materials had a decreased energy and correctly analyzed this as being due to the scattering of photons from electrons. This phenomenon could be handled as a collision between two particles—a photon and an electron at rest in the material. Energy and momentum are conserved in the collision. (See [link] ) He won a Nobel Prize in 1929 for the discovery of this scattering, now called the Compton effect    , because it helped prove that photon momentum    is given by

Questions & Answers

what is physics
Rhema Reply
a15kg powerexerted by the foresafter 3second
Firdos Reply
what is displacement
Xolani Reply
movement in a direction
Explain why magnetic damping might not be effective on an object made of several thin conducting layers separated by insulation? can someone please explain this i need it for my final exam
anas Reply
What is thê principle behind movement of thê taps control
Oluwakayode Reply
what is atomic mass
thomas Reply
this is the mass of an atom of an element in ratio with the mass of carbon-atom
show me how to get the accuracies of the values of the resistors for the two circuits i.e for series and parallel sides
Jesuovie Reply
Explain why it is difficult to have an ideal machine in real life situations.
Isaac Reply
tell me
what's the s . i unit for couple?
its s.i unit is Nm
Force×perpendicular distance N×m=Nm
İt iş diffucult to have idêal machine because of FRİCTİON definitely reduce thê efficiency
if the classica theory of specific heat is valid,what would be the thermal energy of one kmol of copper at the debye temperature (for copper is 340k)
Zaharadeen Reply
can i get all formulas of physics
BPH Reply
what affects fluid
Doreen Reply
Dimension for force MLT-2
Promise Reply
what is the dimensions of Force?
Osueke Reply
how do you calculate the 5% uncertainty of 4cm?
melia Reply
4cm/100×5= 0.2cm
how do you calculate the 5% absolute uncertainty of a 200g mass?
melia Reply
= 200g±(5%)10g
use the 10g as the uncertainty?
which topic u discussing about?
topic of question?
the relationship between the applied force and the deflection
sorry wrong question i meant the 5% uncertainty of 4cm?
its 0.2 cm or 2mm
thank you
Hello group...
well hello there
hi guys
Practice Key Terms 2

Get Jobilize Job Search Mobile App in your pocket Now!

Get it on Google Play Download on the App Store Now

Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'College physics' conversation and receive update notifications?