Stelar Guide

A guide to properly identifying the ellements found in stars

Spectroscopy; what even is it?

Spectroscopy is the study of how matter and electromagnetic radiation react. What that means is that every atom is different from the last. When an atom is energized, each atom emits a different wavelength of light due to the fact that all elements are unique. Each atom's spectrum is a sort of fingerprint for the element because every atom in an element has the same spectrum.

What do these spectrums look like and why do they look like that?

There are three types of spectrums; continuous, absorption, and emission. A continuous spectrum can be observed when looking directly at a light source (through a spectroscope!) and it will just look like a smooth continuous rainbow. An absorption spectrum is observed when looking at a light source, but a cool, transparent gas is in front of it, like an incandescent light bulb. This will look like the continuous spectrum, but there will be dark lines streaked throughout. Emission lines are observed when a cool transparent gas is but in front of a black background and is energized, causing the gas to emit light. These spectrums will look like the exact opposite that the absorption lines, with colored lines streaked throughout a black background. In fact, the wavelengths of the emission lines are the same as the absorption lines (for the same type of gas). So if one were to line up the absorption and emission lines of hydrogen, for example, and compare them side by side, they would line up perfectly so that the lines streaked throughout the emission spectrum could "slide" in perfectly to the absorption spectrum, filling all the gaps.
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Hydrogens emision and absorption lines, lined up.

How will this help me identify the elements found in stars?

Stars are on an extremely bassic level giant floating plasma balls. Which means, a spectroscope could totally pick up on any stars emission spectrums because a star is energized elements. Scientists using this method were able to figure out what our own sun was made of by comparing elements down here on earth to the solar spectrum of the sun. They were able to figure out that it was made of hydrogen, helium, oxygen, iron, neon, nitrogen, magnesium, and silicon- but mostly helium. Here's what some of these elements spectrums look like!

So what?

Like anything in science, every advance is extremely important. For scientists to able to identify what makes up the very thing we orbit around without even visiting it is such an accomplishment. With spectroscopy, we can identify other stars in our galaxy without even leaving earth.

About The Authors

Sophie Schobert and Evagelyne Roman are just a cool cats trying to teach some peeps about the fun world of science