In physics, a black body is an idealized object that absorbs all electromagnetic radiation that falls on it. No electromagnetic radiation passes through it and none is reflected. Because no light (visible electromagnetic radiation) is reflected or transmitted, the object appears black when it is cold. However, a black body emits a temperature-dependent spectrum of light. This thermal radiation from a black body is termed black-body radiation.[nb 1]
At room temperature, black bodies emit mostly infrared wavelengths, but as the temperature increases past a few hundred degrees Celsius, black bodies start to emit visible wavelengths, appearing red, orange, yellow, white, and blue with increasing temperature. By the time an object is white, it is emitting substantial ultraviolet radiation.
The term "black body" was introduced by Gustav Kirchhoff in 1860.
Black-body emission gives insight into the thermal equilibrium state of a continuous field. In classical physics, each different Fourier mode in thermal equilibrium should have the same energy. This approach led to the paradox known as the ultraviolet catastrophe, that there would be an infinite amount of energy in any continuous field. Black bodies could test the properties of thermal equilibrium because they emit radiation which is distributed thermally. Studying the laws of the black body historically led to quantum mechanics.