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Richard Drumm The Astronomy Bum

What is spectroscopy after all?

10 Oct 2009, 03:03 UTC
What is spectroscopy after all?
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One of the most amazing things about astronomy is our ability to see inside the atoms that make up a star. We can't resolve the star into a disc, but we can peer into its inner workings like it was nothing! It's like I'm looking through my telescope and see that there's a speck on a hillside. I know the speck is a person, but I can't tell if it's a man or woman, or if it has both legs, nothing. But I can read this person's mind! Completely counter to what we'd expect, huh?But how the heck is this even remotely possible? By spectroscopy, that's how. Way back in 1814 Joseph von Fraunhofer, a German glassmaker discovered dark lines in the Sun's spectrum of colors. (He also discovered the diffraction grating and was the first to examine the spectra of stars, but that story is for another time.) It took till 18nn for Kirchhoff (and Bunsen of Bunsen burner fame) to figure out that these Fraunhofer lines (as they had come to be called) were a result of and depended on the energy levels of the electrons in the atoms of the material.Fraunhofer lines.Kirchhoff discovered these 3 laws: 1) ...

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