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spectrum

spectrum, arrangement or display of light or other form of radiation separated according to wavelength, frequency, energy, or some other property. Beams of charged particles can be separated into a spectrum according to mass in a mass spectrometer (see mass spectrograph). Physicists often find it useful to separate a beam of particles into a spectrum according to their energy.

Continuous and Line Spectra

Dispersion, the separation of visible light into a spectrum, may be accomplished by means of a prism or a diffraction grating. Each different wavelength or frequency of visible light corresponds to a different color, so that the spectrum appears as a band of colors ranging from violet at the short-wavelength (high-frequency) end of the spectrum through indigo, blue, green, yellow, and orange, to red at the long-wavelength (low-frequency) end of the spectrum. In addition to visible light, other types of electromagnetic radiation may be spread into a spectrum according to frequency or wavelength.

The spectrum formed from white light contains all colors, or frequencies, and is known as a continuous spectrum. Continuous spectra are produced by all incandescent solids and liquids and by gases under high pressure. A gas under low pressure does not produce a continuous spectrum but instead produces a line spectrum, i.e., one composed of individual lines at specific frequencies characteristic of the gas, rather than a continuous band of all frequencies. If the gas is made incandescent by heat or an electric discharge, the resulting spectrum is a bright-line, or emission, spectrum, consisting of a series of bright lines against a dark background. A dark-line, or absorption, spectrum is the reverse of a bright-line spectrum; it is produced when white light containing all frequencies passes through a gas not hot enough to be incandescent. It consists of a series of dark lines superimposed on a continuous spectrum, each line corresponding to a frequency where a bright line would appear if the gas were incandescent. The Fraunhofer lines appearing in the spectrum of the sun are an example of a dark-line spectrum; they are caused by the absorption of certain frequencies of light by the cooler, outer layers of the solar atmosphere. Line spectra of either type are useful in chemical analysis, since they reveal the presence of particular elements. The instrument used for studying line spectra is the spectroscope.

The Quantum Explanation of Spectral Lines

The explanation for exact spectral lines for each substance was provided by the quantum theory. In his 1913 model of the hydrogen atom Niels Bohr showed that the observed series of lines could be explained by assuming that electrons are restricted to atomic orbits in which their orbital angular momentum is an integral multiple of the quantity h/2π, where h is Planck's constant. The integer multiple (e.g., 1, 2, 3 …) of h/2π is usually called the quantum number and represented by the symbol n.

When an electron changes from an orbit of higher energy (higher angular momentum) to one of lower energy, a photon of light energy is emitted whose frequency ν is related to the energy difference ΔE by the equation ν=ΔE/h. For hydrogen, the frequencies of the spectral lines are given by ν=cR (1/nf2-1/ni2) where c is the speed of light, R is the Rydberg constant, and nf and ni are the final and initial quantum numbers of the electron orbits (ni is always greater than nf). The series of spectral lines for which nf=1 is known as the Lyman series; that for nf=2 is the Balmer series; that for nf=3 is the Paschen series; that for nf=4 is the Brackett series; and that for nf=5 is the Pfund series. The Bohr theory was not as successful in explaining the spectra of other substances, but later developments of the quantum theory showed that all aspects of atomic and molecular spectra can be explained quantitatively in terms of energy transitions between different allowed quantum states.

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Spectrum

Spectrum

The term spectrum has two different, but closely related, meanings. In general, the term refers to a whole range of things. In everyday life, for example, a person might say that he or she is interested in the whole spectrum of news stories, meaning that he or she enjoys reading and hearing about anything to do with the news.

In the field of science, one meaning for the word spectrum has to do with the whole range of electromagnetic energies that exist. This range is known as the electromagnetic spectrum. All forms of electromagnetic energy travel through space in the form of waves that have distinctive wavelengths and frequencies. The wavelength of a wave is the distance between adjacent identical parts of the wave, as between two crests or two troughs (pronounced trawfs). The frequency of a wave is the number of crests (or troughs) that pass a given point in space per second.

The electromagnetic spectrum consists of forms of energy such as gamma rays, X rays, ultraviolet radiation, infrared radiation, visible light, radio waves, microwaves, and radar. These forms of energy are similar in their mode of transmission but different from each other in their wavelength and frequency.

Words to Know

Absorption spectrum: The spectrum formed when light passes through a cool gas.

Continuous spectrum: A spectrum that consists of every possible wavelength of light or energy.

Electromagnetic spectrum: The continuous distribution of all electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from approximately 1015 to 106 meters, which includes gamma rays, X rays, ultraviolet, visible light, infrared, microwaves, and radio waves.

Emission spectrum: The spectrum produced when atoms are excited and give off energy.

Frequency: For a wave, the number of crests (or troughs) that pass a stationary point per second.

Line spectrum: A spectrum that consists of a few discrete lines.

Wavelength: The distance between adjacent peaks (peaks located next to each other) or troughs on a wave.

The term spectrum is also used in describing the whole range of visible light, ranging from red through orange, yellow, green, and blue to violet. If all colors are represented in the spectrum, it is called a continuous spectrum. A rainbow is an example of a continuous spectrum.

When any one given element is heated, it also gives off a spectrumbut one that is not continuous. Instead, it gives off a series of lines that reflect specific electron changes that occur within the atoms of that element. Some elements have very simple line spectra consisting of only a handful of lines. Other elements give off more complex line spectra with many lines.

Line spectra can take on one of two general forms: emission or absorption spectra. An emission spectrum is the line pattern formed when an element is excited and gives off energy. An absorption spectrum is formed when white light passes through a cool gas. The gas absorbs certain wavelengths of energy and allows others to pass through. The line spectrum formed by the energy that passes through the gas is known as an absorption spectrum.

[See also Electromagnetic spectrum; Light; Spectroscopy ]

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spectrum

spectrum (pl. spectra) A range of electromagnetic energies arrayed in order of increasing or decreasing wavelength or frequency. The emission spectrum of a body or substance is the characteristic range of radiations it emits when it is heated, bombarded by electrons or ions, or absorbs photons. The absorption spectrum of a substance is produced by examining, through the substance and through a spectroscope, a continuous spectrum of radiation. The energies removed from the continuous spectrum by the absorbing medium show up as black lines or bands; with a substance capable of emitting a spectrum these are in exactly the same positions in the spectrum as the emission lines and bands would occur in the emission spectrum.

Emission and absorption spectra may show a continuous spectrum, a line spectrum, or a band spectrum. A continuous spectrum contains an unbroken sequence of frequencies over a relatively wide range; it is produced by incandescent solids, liquids, and compressed gases. Line spectra are discontinuous lines produced by excited atoms and ions as they fall back to a lower energy level. Band spectra (closely grouped bands of lines) are characteristic of molecular gases or chemical compounds. Absorption spectra of chlorophylls and other photosynthetic pigments are important in the study of photosynthesis. See action spectrum.

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spectrum

spectrum Arrangement of electromagnetic radiations ordered by wavelength or frequency. The visible light spectrum is a series of colours: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Each colour corresponds to a different wavelength of light. This was first noted in 1666 by English physicist Isaac Newton. A spectrum is seen in a rainbow or when white light passes through a prism. This effect, also seen when visible light passes through a diffraction grating, produces a continuous spectrum in which all wavelengths (between certain limits) are present. Spectra formed from objects emitting radiations are called emission spectra. These occur when a substance is strongly heated or bombarded by electrons. An absorption spectrum, consisting of dark regions on a bright background, is obtained when white light passes through a semi-transparent medium that absorbs certain frequencies. A line spectrum is one in which only certain wavelengths or ‘lines’ appear. See spectroscopy

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spectrum

spec·trum / ˈspektrəm/ • n. (pl. -tra / -trə/ ) 1. a band of colors, as seen in a rainbow, produced by separation of the components of light by their different degrees of refraction according to wavelength. ∎  (the spectrum) the entire range of wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. ∎  an image or distribution of components of any electromagnetic radiation arranged in a progressive series according to wavelength. ∎  a similar image or distribution of components of sound, particles, etc., arranged according to such characteristics as frequency, charge, and energy. 2. used to classify something, or suggest that it can be classified, in terms of its position on a scale between two extreme or opposite points: the left or the right of the political spectrum. ∎  a wide range: self-help books are covering a broader and broader spectrum.

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spectrum

spectrum (pl. spectra; optical emission spectrum) A series of lines (line spectra), produced as electrons return to their original energy levels and emit excess energy as infrared, visible, or ultraviolet light of characteristic wavelengths, after atoms have been heated strongly and valence electrons in the outer shell have moved to higher energy levels. Each element has a characteristic line spectrum. The intensity of each line is related to the concentration of the element being excited.

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spectrum

spectrum (spek-trŭm) n. (in pharmacology) the range of effectiveness of an antibiotic. broad s. effectiveness against a wide range of microoganisms.

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spectrum

spectrum •minimum • maximum • optimum •chrysanthemum, helianthemum •cardamom • Pergamum • sesamum •per annum • magnum • damnum •Arnhem, Barnum •envenom, venom •interregnum • Cheltenham • arcanum •duodenum, plenum •platinum • antirrhinum • Bonham •summum bonum • Puttnam •ladanum • molybdenum • laudanum •origanum, polygonum •organum • tympanum •laburnum, sternum •gingham • Gillingham • Birmingham •Cunningham • Walsingham •Nottingham • wampum • carom •Abram • panjandrum • tantrum •angstrom • alarum • candelabrum •plectrum, spectrum •arum, harem, harum-scarum, Sarum •sacrum, simulacrum •maelstrom • cerebrum • pyrethrum •Ingram •sistrum, Tristram •Hiram •grogram, pogrom •nostrum, rostrum •cockalorum, decorum, forum, jorum, Karakoram, Karakorum, Mizoram, pons asinorum, quorum •wolfram • fulcrum • Durham •conundrum • buckram • lustrum •serum, theorem •labarum • marjoram • pittosporum •Rotherham • Bertram

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