Black-Bodies, White Suns

1.2 Introduction

A black-body is simply a body or object that is a perfect absorber of light and therefore, by a fundamental reciprocal relation, a perfect emitter. Although the perfect black-body represents a mathematical ideal, physical objects and devices can approach black-body properties reasonably closely. Even though defined so simply, black-bodies have played a surprisingly large role in the evolution of physics. Attempts to understand the spectral distribution of light emitted by heated black-bodies led directly to the development of quantum mechanics (Duck 2000). One particular approximation to a black-body, the paradoxically white and bright sun, has had an even more significant impact on human culture, being indispensable to human life itself.

Black-bodies feature prominently in the theory of the limiting performance of solar cells. Not only is the radiation emitted by the sun a good approximation to that from a very hot black-body, but an ideal solar cell would be expected to be a good absorber of light and hence be related to a black-body in some way. The details of this relationship forms the focus of many of the following chapters. An additional reason for the interest in black-bodies in solar cell theory is that, given their prominence in the development of physics, their thermodynamics have been thoroughly explored. This is particularly helpful when seeking to evaluate limiting solar cell performance.

Updated: August 2, 2015 — 10:23 am