What Are the Colors in the Visible Spectrum?

By: Sascha Bos  | 

We don't typically think of the energy used to x-ray a broken bone or heat food in the microwave as light, but, technically speaking, it's all electromagnetic radiation. Humans can only see a tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum called the visible spectrum — the rest is invisible to us.


What Is the Visible Spectrum?

The visible spectrum, also known as the optical spectrum, is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum the human eye can see.

The entire electromagnetic spectrum ranges from radio waves, which have the longest wavelength, to gamma rays, which have the shortest. In between are microwaves, followed by infrared light, followed by the visible range of light waves, followed by ultraviolet light (UV light) and then x-rays.


Of the visible light rays, red light has the longest wavelength and violet light has the shortest wavelength. Shorter wavelengths equal higher frequencies and higher temperature, so scientists use the visible light spectrum to determine the temperature of stars in space.

Our sun is yellow and 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit at its surface. Colder stars appear red, and a hot stars appear violet.


How Light Moves

Light can move as waves or as particles, but the light you can see is best explained in terms of waves. Waves come in varying sizes, and the sizes are measured in wavelengths. A wavelength is the distance from one point to a corresponding point on a subsequent wave, like from the peak of one wave to the peak of the next, or from a trough to a trough.

The only wavelengths that you can see fall between 400 and 700 billionths of a meter. All of the colors that you can perceive fall within that range.


Despite this, waves can be much larger, like radio waves, and much smaller, like gamma rays. The visible light spectrum is just a small part of the overall spectrum of waves.

The Frequency of Light

Light waves are also measured according to their frequency, which is how many waves can pass a given point in a given amount of time. Frequency is measured in Hertz, or Hz for short.

When it comes to visible light, your eyes can pick up anything from 430 trillion Hz — which you understand as red — to 750 trillion Hz — which you see as violet. There are other, higher frequencies that you can't see, and there are lower ones that you can't see either.


Visible light can also be measured by its energy. All waves are made of traveling energy, and the amount of energy contained in each wave is related in proportion to its frequency. The more energy a wave has, the higher its frequency, and vice versa.

For visible light, the highest frequency color, which is violet, also has the most energy. The lowest frequency of visible light, which is red, has the least energy.


Visible Light Spectrum FAQ

What is the frequency of visible light?
Visible light has a frequency ranging from 7.5×10^14 Hz (blue) to 4.3×10^14 Hz (red).
What is the wavelength of the visible spectrum?
The spectrum of wavelengths we can see (visible light) ranges from 380 nm (blue) to 700 nm (red). Below this spectrum is ultraviolet, after which we have blue, and at the top of the spectrum of visible light is red, after which we have infrared.
What color is 400 nm?
At 400 nm, we see a color between violet and blue named indigo. Nm stands for "nanometers," or one billionth of a meter.
What is the visible light spectrum in order?
To remember the seven colors of the visible light spectrum, try memorizing the name "Roy G. Biv." The abbreviation represents red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

Lots More Information

Nasa Hubblesite. "The Electromagnetic Spectrum." Sep. 2022. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Sep. 8, 2023. https://hubblesite.org/contents/articles/the-electromagnetic-spectrum

Nassau, Kurt. "colour". Jun. 29, 2023. Encyclopedia Britannica. Sep. 8, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/science/color.

Science Mission Directorate. "Visible Light." NASA Science. 2010. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Sep. 8, 2023. http://science.nasa.gov/ems/09_visiblelight