January 16, 2008 Issue

Physics To Go 41 - Visible light spectra

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Physics in Your World

Atomic Spectra image
image credit: Rod Nave; image source; larger image

Atomic Spectra

This composite image shows the red emission lines from a neon spectrum on the left and a neon sign--the red tube on the right. To see the emission spectra of other elements, visit Atomic Spectra, and click in the checkboxes. To learn about the spectrum of hydrogen, the simplest atom, go to this Hyperphysics page.

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Physics at Home

Stellar Spectra

Visit Stellar Spectra, from Annenberg/CPB, to try your hand at identifying the chemical elements in stars through their spectral "fingerprints." To see absorption lines across the whole solar spectrum, visit this Astronomy Picture of the Day.


From Physics Research

Solar Spectrum image
image credits: Lawrence S. Anderson-Huang, The University of Toledo; image source

Solar Spectrum

A spectrum shows light spread out according to its color. The continuous spectrum with dark absorption lines, which is shown twice above, is sunlight, and the emission lines, in the other spectra, are from the elements indicated--magnesium, hydrogen, and sodium. Can you find any of their emission lines in the solar spectrum?

For the difference between absorption lines and emission lines, see the diagram in Solar Spectrum.

Can you match any of these emission lines to absorption lines in the solar spectrum? For a simulation of the spectra of many common elements, see Spectra of Gas Discharges.  

(This feature was updated on July 27, 2011.)

Worth a Look

Spectral Lines

Spectral Lines, from Physics 2000, and the pages that follow it show how observations of spectral lines led to the concept of atomic energy levels. For more on energy levels, see Ohio State's Measuring Light: Spectroscopy. To find out how stars are classified by their spectral type, visit the Sloan Digital Sky Survey's Energy Levels of Electrons.

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