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#### Summary

Thermal radiation is electromagnetic radiation generated by the thermal motion of charged particles in matter. All matter with a temperature greater than absolute zero emits thermal radiation. When the temperature of the body is greater than absolute zero, interatomic collisions cause the kinetic energy of the atoms or molecules to change. This results in charge-acceleration and/or dipole oscillation which produces electromagnetic radiation, and the wide spectrum of radiation reflects the wide spectrum of energies and accelerations that occur even at a single temperature.

#### Details

There are four main properties that characterize thermal radiation (in the limit of the far field):

• Thermal radiation emitted by a body at any temperature consists of a wide range of frequencies. The frequency distribution is given by Planck's law of black-body radiation for an idealized emitter as shown in the diagram at top.
• The dominant frequency (or color) range of the emitted radiation shifts to higher frequencies as the temperature of the emitter increases. For example, a red hot object radiates mainly in the long wavelengths (red and orange) of the visible band. If it is heated further, it also begins to emit discernible amounts of green and blue light, and the spread of frequencies in the entire visible range cause it to appear white to the human eye; it is white hot. However, even at a white-hot temperature of 2000 K, 99% of the energy of the radiation is still in the infrared. This is determined by Wien's displacement law. In the diagram the peak value for each curve moves to the left as the temperature increases.
• The total amount of radiation of all frequencies increases steeply as the temperature rises; it grows as T4, where T is the absolute temperature of the body. An object at the temperature of a kitchen oven, about twice the room temperature on the absolute temperature scale (600 K vs. 300 K) radiates 16 times as much power per unit area. An object at the temperature of the filament in an incandescent light bulb—roughly 3000 K, or 10 times room temperature—radiates 10,000 times as much energy per unit area. The total radiative intensity of a black body rises as the fourth power of the absolute temperature, as expressed by the Stefan–Boltzmann law. In the plot, the area under each curve grows rapidly as the temperature increases.
• The rate of electromagnetic radiation emitted at a given frequency is proportional to the amount of absorption that it would experience by the source. Thus, a surface that absorbs more red light thermally radiates more red light. This principle applies to all properties of the wave, including wavelength (color), direction, polarization, and even coherence, so that it is quite possible to have thermal radiation which is polarized, coherent, and directional, though polarized and coherent forms are fairly rare in nature far from sources (in terms of wavelength). See section below for more on this qualification.