# Is light *nothing more* than a pair of transverse electric and magnetic oscillating field moving in a given direction?

If one creates an oscillating electric field and a magnetic field, transversal to each other, and oscillating at a given frequency belonging to the visible spectrum, and moving in a given direction of an observator, will an observer see the same as compared to the same experiment where he looks at the light ?

Said differently, is light nothing more than a pair of transverse electric and magnetic fields?
So would creating a pair of transverse electric and magnetic oscillating fields moving in a given direction be equivalent to create light?

• The mechanism you propose is one of the ways light is generated. Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 18:17
• Sure, but but look at the detail of my paraph for the question. Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 18:18
• It is not clear where you think the possible difference between "light" and "just an electromagnetic wave" lies. Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 18:22
• The question assumes we're in the realm of classical physics. There is something more when we put the question in the quantum mechanical world. Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 19:04
• @garyp - That is the question he is asking. The answer is that it doesn't differ. Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 19:06

An oscillating electric field and magnetic field propagates as light and Heinrich Hertz has already demonstrated that by creating radio waves in the laboratory.

So yes light is a pair of transverse oscillating electric and magnetic fields.

• check the question "nothing more than". Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 18:15
• What do you mean by "nothing more"? Maxwell's electromagnetic theory is sufficient to account for the wave nature of light. As far as the particle nature goes that does not discard the wave nature so in essence light is pair of transverse oscillating electric and magnetic fields.
– Lost
Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 18:18
• ok : so if in a laboratory, I create a transverse electric and magnetic oscillating fields moving in a given direction : will we see light ? Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 18:20
• Yes. If the frequency is within the visible spectrum. You do see light out of a light bulb don't you? What do you think causes that?
– Lost
Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 18:23
• ok thank you @Lost Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 18:30

To the question "is light nothing more than a pair of transverse electric and magnetic fields?" the answer is: "classically yes, indeed". However, these fields are a wave function, like Schrödinger's equation, that describes the probability of finding photons, the massless point particles that light consists of.

• +1. I see the point of your comment to my answer now. Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 19:29
• This isn't an answer to the question. However these fields are a wave function, like Schrodinger's, that describes the probability of finding photons This simply not true. The fields are not wavefunctions. They have the form of a wave. There are mathematical expressions tough that give a description of these waves. These can derived from Maxwell's equations. Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 19:40
• So we meet again. I am sorry to have to tell you that you are again wrong, @descheleschilder. The famous two slit experiment with very low intensity proved that the classical intensity is to be interpreted as the probability of detecting a photon. Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 21:56
• You seriously must try (read!) to get some understanding of what classical and quantum physics are about. Read some books, or read online. It's what I did! Classical electromagnetics, of course, can explain the interference pattern. There is no need to interpreter it in a quantum mechanical way. It's how the pattern is formed where quantum mechanics kicks in: Dot, dot, dot... Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 22:19
• @descheleschilder what my2cts is saying is that classical electrodynamics is an average behaviour of the more accurate quantum description. If the double slit experiment is conducted with sufficiently low intensity, then classical electrodynamics fails to explain the “dot, dot...” Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 6:17

It can be hard to say what light really is. You are talking about the classical view of light. Descheleschilder's answer is correct. But if you look at a microscopic view of light, you need quantum mechanics.

This is like looking at what air pressure is. In a large scale view (classical), it is a smooth force that air exerts on the walls. But microscopically, it isn't smooth. It is individual air molecules bouncing off the wall. Each molecule gives the wall an individual kick. When you add up lots of these kicks, you get a smooth force. It is really the same explanation, but it looks totally different.

Light is the same. On a microscopic scale, light can be emitted by an individual electron in an atom, and absorbed by another electron in another atom. One atom gives another a kick. When you add up lots of atoms, you can see a smooth force that is described by an electromagnetic field.

An individual atom's worth of light has a name "photon", but that doesn't say what light is. A photon is sort of like a particle and sort of like a wave. For more on that, see my answer to How can a red light photon be different from a blue light photon?.

It can also get confusing if you take a careful look at the classical picture. What kind of thing is an electric field? See my answer to In what medium are non-mechanical waves a disturbance? The aether?

• The question isn't about quantum mechanics but about classic(al) electrodynamics. It's a good reading though! Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 6:32

That's not the way you can create classical light waves. Both the electric and magnetic fields can't be made to vary in time independently.
It's the easiest just to let an electric field vary periodically in time at visible light frequencies. The magnetic field will automatically be created, according to Maxwell's equations.

A varying magnetic field would also create an electromagnetic wave, but that's much harder to realize because there is much less energy contained in a magnetic field.

In both cases (creating the varying fields) an electromagnetic wave will emerge.