Q:

How might emission spectra be used to study stars?

A:

Quick Answer

The emission spectra of gases can be used to study stars because the absorption spectra of stars are the exact opposite of the emission spectra of the gases that compose the stars. When the light from a star is split into its component colors, it creates a continuous spectrum except for specific missing colors. These missing colors are the same ones emitted by heated gases in laboratory settings.

Continue Reading
How might emission spectra be used to study stars?
Credit: Trevor Williams Photo Disc Getty Images

Full Answer

Light from stars appears white and, when split, contains a large spectrum of colors. Individual gases, however, only emit certain wavelengths of light when heated, according to the way their electrons are configured. When atoms absorb heat, some of their electrons move to larger, more energetic orbitals. When the electrons move back into their resting orbital, they release light energy at particular frequencies.

Stars emit light and a much wider range of frequencies than just the heat emission spectra of their component gases. Any color that a light emits, however, it also absorbs. Thus, the light generated by other processes that matches the gases' emission spectra is actually absorbed by the gases around the star. This creates darker regions in the spectra of the star itself and indicates the gases that compose it.

Learn more about Stellar Astronomy

Related Questions

  • Q:

    How are constellations useful?

    A:

    Constellations are useful for navigation and for researchers to easily find specific stars in the night sky, according to Cornell University's Department of Astronomy. In addition to navigational uses, other historical uses of constellations involved ancient religions and agriculture.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:
  • Q:

    Why can't we see stars during the day?

    A:

    Most stars cannot be seen during daylight hours because light from the sun is brighter than the relatively faint light from the other stars. This is largely a result of the Earth's atmosphere scattering the sun's light so that every point in the sky seems brighter than distant stars.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:
  • Q:

    When was the Milky Way discovered?

    A:

    The Milky Way has been observed for millennia, but the discovery that it was composed of stars and was our home galaxy emerged gradually. From ancient times through to the modern era, humankind has been adding to its understanding of the Milky Way.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:
  • Q:

    How many stars are in the Milky Way?

    A:

    Astronomers estimate that the Milky Way has about 100 billion stars. However, this number is a very rough estimate based on mathematical formula, and advances in technology allow more accurate assessments.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:

Explore