In physics, a black body is an object that absorbs all electromagnetic radiation that falls onto it. No radiation passes through it and none is reflected. It is this lack of both transmission and reflection to which the name refers. These properties make black bodies ideal sources of thermal radiation. That is, the amount and wavelength (color) of electromagnetic radiation they emit is directly related to their temperature. Black bodies below around 700 K (430 °C) produce very little radiation at visible wavelengths and appear black. Black bodies above this temperature however, produce radiation at visible wavelengths starting at red, going through orange, yellow, and white before ending up at blue as the temperature increases.
The term "black body" was introduced by Gustav Kirchhoff in 1860. The light emitted by a black body is called black-body radiation (or cavity radiation), and has a special place in the history of quantum mechanics.
The temperature of a Pahoehoe lava flow can be estimated by observing its colour. The result agrees well with the measured temperatures of lava flows at about 1,000 to 1,200 °C.
The radiance or observed intensity is not a function of direction. Therefore a black body is a perfect Lambertian radiator.
In the laboratory, a black-body radiation is approximated by the radiation from a small hole entrance to a large cavity, a hohlraum. Any light entering the hole would have to reflect off the walls of the cavity multiple times before it escaped, in which process it is nearly certain to be absorbed. This occurs regardless of the wavelength of the radiation entering (as long as it is small compared to the hole). The hole, then, is a close approximation of a theoretical black body and, if the cavity is heated, the spectrum of the hole's radiation (i.e., the amount of light emitted from the hole at each wavelength) will be continuous, and will not depend on the material in the cavity.
Calculating this curve was a major challenge in theoretical physics during the late nineteenth century. The problem was finally solved in 1901 by Max Planck as Planck's law of black-body radiation. By making changes to Wien's Radiation Law (not to be confused with Wien's displacement law) consistent with Thermodynamics and Electromagnetism, he found a mathematical formula fitting the experimental data in a satisfactory way. To find a physical interpretation for this formula, Planck had then to assume that the energy of the oscillators in the cavity was quantized (i.e., integer multiples of some quantity). Einstein built on this idea and proposed the quantization of electromagnetic radiation itself in 1905 to explain the photoelectric effect. These theoretical advances eventually resulted in the superseding of classical electromagnetism by quantum electrodynamics. Today, these quanta are called photons and the black-body cavity may be thought of as containing a gas of photons. In addition, it led to the development of quantum versions of statistical mechanics, called Fermi-Dirac statistics and Bose-Einstein statistics, each applicable to a different class of particles.