Firefly Lights at Night
The Fourth of July in the United States is noted for the thunderous displays of fireworks that light up the nighttime sky. In Eastern North America, a quieter light show is on display, not only on July 4, but every night during summer. The firefly light show is much quieter. It does not depend on heat and noisy, dangerous explosions to produce light. The fireflies use luciferin, a chemical that can be activated to release most of the activation energy as photons.
In the firefly light organ, luciferin is activated by reaction with ATP to produce adenyl-luciferin. An enzyme, luciferase, catalyzes the reaction of adenyl-luciferin with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and oxyluciferin. The unstable oxyluciferin decays spontaneously, releasing a photon. The vast majority of energy is in the form of the photon. Thus, fireflies can emit their light without generating heat.
The noisy fireworks and resulting disturbed slumber get old quickly. The quiet displays of fireflies do not.
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