Phenomena

Turning Sound into Light

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Sonoluminescence – the creation of light from sound – was discovered in the 1930s, and, due to the difficulty of obtaining direct measurements, the exact mechanism remains highly debated even today. The phenomenon typically takes place within a tiny cavitation bubble inside a liquid. When bombarded with ultrasonic sound, such a bubble will repeatedly expand and collapse. Once a bubble is established, the cycle can be kicked off by increasing the driving acoustic pressure. This will collapse the bubble, drastically increasing its pressure and temperature (up to thousands of degrees Kelvin) and causing the bubble to emit a pulse of light before the pressure imbalance causes it to expand again. Several theories exist as to how the light is generated, the leading one being that the high temperatures in the bubble ionize the noble gases within and that those free electrons emit light via thermal bremstrahlung radiation. Sonoluminescence happens outside the lab, too. Both the previously discussed pistol shrimp and the mantis shrimp generate such light-emitting bubbles when hunting. (Video credit: The Point Studios; suggested by Bobby E.)

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