- Maxwell’s prediction of electromagnetic waves resulted from his formulation of a complete and symmetric theory of electricity and magnetism, known as Maxwell’s equations.
- The four Maxwell’s equations together with the Lorentz force law encompass the major laws of electricity and magnetism. The first of these is Gauss’s law for electricity; the second is Gauss’s law for magnetism; the third is Faraday’s law of induction (including Lenz’s law); and the fourth is Ampère’s law in a symmetric formulation that adds another source of magnetism, namely changing electric fields.
- The symmetry introduced between electric and magnetic fields through Maxwell’s displacement current explains the mechanism of electromagnetic wave propagation, in which changing magnetic fields produce changing electric fields and vice versa.
- Although light was already known to be a wave, the nature of the wave was not understood before Maxwell. Maxwell’s equations also predicted electromagnetic waves with wavelengths and frequencies outside the range of light. These theoretical predictions were first confirmed experimentally by Heinrich Hertz.
- Maxwell’s equations predict that the directions of the electric and magnetic fields of the wave, and the wave’s direction of propagation, are all mutually perpendicular. The electromagnetic wave is a transverse wave.
- The strengths of the electric and magnetic parts of the wave are related by which implies that the magnetic field B is very weak relative to the electric field E.
- Accelerating charges create electromagnetic waves (for example, an oscillating current in a wire produces electromagnetic waves with the same frequency as the oscillation).
- The energy carried by any wave is proportional to its amplitude squared. For electromagnetic waves, this means intensity can be expressed as
where I is the average intensity in and is the maximum electric field strength of a continuous sinusoidal wave. This can also be expressed in terms of the maximum magnetic field strength as
and in terms of both electric and magnetic fields as
The three expressions for are all equivalent.
- Electromagnetic waves carry momentum and exert radiation pressure.
- The radiation pressure of an electromagnetic wave is directly proportional to its energy density.
- The pressure is equal to twice the electromagnetic energy intensity if the wave is reflected and equal to the incident energy intensity if the wave is absorbed.
- The relationship among the speed of propagation, wavelength, and frequency for any wave is given by so that for electromagnetic waves, where f is the frequency, is the wavelength, and c is the speed of light.
- The electromagnetic spectrum is separated into many categories and subcategories, based on the frequency and wavelength, source, and uses of the electromagnetic waves.