PNG images: Microwave

Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from one meter to one millimeter; with frequencies between 300 MHz (100 cm) and 300 GHz (0.1 cm). Different sources define different frequency ranges as microwaves; the above broad definition includes both UHF and EHF (millimeter wave) bands. A more common definition in radio engineering is the range between 1 and 100 GHz (300 and 3 mm). In all cases, microwaves include the entire SHF band (3 to 30 GHz, or 10 to 1 cm) at minimum. Frequencies in the microwave range are often referred to by their IEEE radar band designations: S, C, X, Ku, K, or Ka band, or by similar NATO or EU designations.

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The prefix micro- in microwave is not meant to suggest a wavelength in the micrometer range. It indicates that microwaves are "small", compared to the radio waves used prior to microwave technology, in that they have shorter wavelengths. The boundaries between far infrared, terahertz radiation, microwaves, and ultra-high-frequency radio waves are fairly arbitrary and are used variously between different fields of study.

Microwaves travel by line-of-sight; unlike lower frequency radio waves they do not diffract around hills, follow the earth's surface as ground waves, or reflect from the ionosphere, so terrestrial microwave communication links are limited by the visual horizon to about 40 miles (64 km). At the high end of the band they are absorbed by gases in the atmosphere, limiting practical communication distances to around a kilometer. Microwaves are extremely widely used in modern technology. They are used for point-to-point communication links, wireless networks, microwave radio relay networks, radar, satellite and spacecraft communication, medical diathermy and cancer treatment, remote sensing, radio astronomy, particle accelerators, spectroscopy, industrial heating, collision avoidance systems, garage door openers and keyless entry systems, and for cooking food in microwave ovens.

Microwaves travel solely by line-of-sight paths; unlike lower frequency radio waves they do not travel as ground waves which follow the contour of the Earth, or reflect off the ionosphere (skywaves). Although at the low end of the band they can pass through building walls enough for useful reception, usually rights of way cleared to the first Fresnel zone are required. Therefore, on the surface of the Earth microwave communication links are limited by the visual horizon to about 30 – 40 miles (48 – 64 km). Microwaves are absorbed by moisture in the atmosphere, and the attenuation increases with frequency, becoming a significant factor (rain fade) at the high end of the band. Beginning at about 40 GHz, atmospheric gases also begin to absorb microwaves, so above this frequency microwave transmission is limited to a few kilometers. A spectral band structure causes absorption peaks at specific frequencies. Above 100 GHz, the absorption of electromagnetic radiation by Earth's atmosphere is so great that it is in effect opaque, until the atmosphere becomes transparent again in the so-called infrared and optical window frequency ranges.

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