Behaviour of an electromagnetic wave in 3D

Oscillating electric and magnetic fields propagating through space.

Electromagnetic waves are composed of oscillating magnetic and electric fields. The animated representation above shows its perpendicular electric and magnetic components.

The vertical electrical field oscillation is shown in blue, while the perpendicular magnetic field oscillation is shown in green. These field vectors change in magnitude and direction to represent the oscillation of the wave.

An electromagnetic wave travels at the speed of light in a vacuum, which is approximately 300,000km/s. This speed is commonly denoted by "c" in physics.

3D looping animation showing an oscillating wave.

The 3D looping animation above allows viewers to explore an oscillating wave interactively. A static version of this electromagnetic wave 3D model is also available, it has been optimised to use fewer system resources.

Frequency, wavelength, and amplitude

Electromagnetic waves can be characterised by their frequencies and wavelengths. Together these determine a wave's properties, such as its energy and momentum.

The cycle of a wave represents one complete oscillation of the wave's electric and magnetic fields, or a complete series of values of a periodical process.

The frequency can be defined as the number of complete cycles of the wave occurring in one second, while the wavelength is the physical distance travelled by a wave during one complete cycle. A wave's amplitude is the maximum deflection within an oscillation, or the distance from the zero-value baseline to the peak of the curve.

When two or more waves interact with each other interference occurs; learn more about wave interference with this related 3D learning experience.

EASA ATPL Radio Navigation (062) - Electromagnetic waves.