Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Black Body (Re)radiation
Name: Dallas T.
Status: educator
Age: 30s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: Saturday, April 20, 2002 8:17:44 PM

I understand why a black body absorbs heat quicker than a white body, but why does a black body emit heat quicker than a white body?


A black body absorbs radiation heat (photons of light) better than a white object. When light hits the black object, the energy gets absorbed and held long enough to distribute through the material. When light hits a white object, it gets re-emitted almost immediately. The energy of the light does not have enough time to be distributed.

For a black object, changing heat to light is easier for the same reason. Energy transferred to a surface atom can be held long enough for more and more energy to build up. Soon there is enough energy in the atom to produce light. You may not see the light because it may be infrared. A surface molecule of the white material cannot hold the energy long enough to build a photon of light. It may occur now and then, but not nearly as often as for the black material. Thus, a black material can absorb and emit energy faster than the white material.

Dr. Ken Mellendorf
Physics Instructor
Illinois Central College

Suppose you put a black body and a white body in a room and hit them both with a light (shine a flashlight,whatever). They both begin to absorb the light, and warm up, maybe at different rates of temperature rise, but both warm up. But they cannot warm up forever, they would go to infinite temperature. As they each get hotter, they each radiate heat back out. Eventually they each must come to some (equal) equilibrium temperature. But they each continue to absorb at the different rates, so they must radiate at different rates, each precisely balanced so that in = out. White rate absorbed is not black rate absorbed, but is the same as white rate radiated.

Steve Ross

I think that there is an ambiguous use of the term "blackbody" vs. "black_body".

One word vs. two words. A blackbody is a body that emits radiation according to Plank's Law. The distribution of radiation within a blackbody (think of it as a small hole in a large can) depends only upon the temperature of the body and not on its composition or "color". When you refer to a "black vs. white body" you mean what is the distribution of wavelengths of light that are REFLECTED by an object. A white body reflects all wavelengths of visible light equally. So if you shine a red light onto a "white" body it appears red. If you shine a blue light onto a "white" body it appears blue. A "black_body" reflects no wavelengths of visible light. It is not clear to me exactly what you mean by the term "quicker" since the change in temperature of an object depends on many factors -- heat capacity of the object, convection of air in contact with the body etc.

Use to search the term "blackbody" (one word) and you will find numerous sites discussing the subject, at all levels of sophistication, and many with very pretty graphics.

Vince Calder

Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory