How Are Elements Identified for Bright-Line Spectra?

Elements can be identified through their bright-line spectra by comparing the radiated wavelengths emitted by each element to its known spectrum by a method known as spectroscopy. Spectroscopy uses tools that enable the human eye to see the wavelength created by the radiated energy. Each element displays a different spectrum of colors, which allows scientists to distinguish them. Spectroscopy is sometimes known as spectrography.

Mass spectrometry, ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy, infrared spectroscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy are some types of spectroscopy that are commonly used in the study of physics and chemistry. These methods allow people to see light outside the visible spectrum due to its higher or lower wavelength, such as infrared, sub-mm, radio waves, ultraviolet, X-rays and gamma ray lights.

In mass spectrometry, a mass spectrometer is a tool that allows scientists to see the spectrum of color emitted by an element. Hydrogen emits only a small number of wavelengths. Using a spectrometer, the human eye can see the emissions, which look like a line of deep purple, a line of deep blue, a line of turquoise and a line of bright red. This color pattern allows scientists to distinguish hydrogen from other elements, such as iron, which has a much fuller spectrum that contains oranges, yellows and greens.