Spectroscopy

Spectrum of the Sun

Spectroscopy

Spectroscopy is a technique used to analyse light by breaking it apart into its component colours with a prism or grating and studying the resulting pattern, which is known as a spectrum. Dark absorption and bright emission lines that interrupt the rainbow of colours from the split-apart light allow scientists to 'fingerprint' the light's source.

By studying a star's spectrum, scientists can work out its chemical make-up and temperature. Spectroscopy also allows astronomers to work out the relative velocities of galaxies and supernovae by measuring something called red shift.

Image: A spectrum of the Sun (credit: Physics dept., Imperial College/SPL)

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Spectrum of the Sun

Introduction

A powerful technique helps scientists 'fingerprint' starlight.

About Spectroscopy

Spectroscopy /spɛkˈtrɒskəpi/ is the study of the interaction between matter and electromagnetic radiation. Historically, spectroscopy originated through the study of visible light dispersed according to its wavelength, by a prism. Later the concept was expanded greatly to comprise any interaction with radiative energy as a function of its wavelength or frequency. Spectroscopic data is often represented by a spectrum, a plot of the response of interest as a function of wavelength or frequency.

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