Fr.: catastrophe ultraviolette
A → paradox encountered in the classical theory of → thermal radiation (→ Rayleigh-Jeans law), whereby a → blackbody should radiate an infinite amount of energy at infinitely short wavelengths, in contradiction with what is observed. The problem was solved by Max Planck in 1900, who suggested that, rather than being continuous, the energy comes in discrete parcels called → quanta. The avoidance of the ultraviolet catastrophe was one of the first great achievements of → quantum mechanics.
This problem was first raised by Lord Rayleigh (1842-1919), whereas the term ultraviolet catastrophe was first used by Paul Ehrenfest (1880-1933); → ultraviolet; → catastrophe.