Monday, January 17, 2011

Quantum Mechanics of Thermal Radiation

I previously posted on this topic but I was unhappy with my answer. So I submitted the following question to the Physics StackExchange ...

What are the quantum mechanisms behind the emission and absorption of thermal radiation at and below room temperature? If the relevant quantum state transitions are molecular (stretching, flexing and spin changes) how come the thermal spectrum is continuous? What about substances (such as noble gases) which don't form molecules, how do they emit or absorb thermal radiation? Is there a semi-classical mechanism (with the EM field treated classically) and also a deeper explanation using the full apparatus of QFT?

... and got some good answers here.