Tonight's Sky
Sun
Sun
Moon
Moon
Mercury
Mercury
Venus
Venus
Mars
Mars
Jupiter
Jupiter
Saturn
Saturn

Tonight's Sky — Change location

OR

Searching...

Tonight's Sky — Select location

Tonight's Sky — Enter coordinates

° '
° '

Astronomy 101: Chemistry in space

In this episode, learn about how scientists look for specific atoms and molecules in space and which ones they have discovered so far.
RELATED TOPICS: SPECTRA | ASTROCHEMISTRY
Radiation-spectrum
Fraunhofer lines in the Sun's spectrum
N. A. Sharp, NOAO/NSO/KITT PEAK/AURA/NSF
Atoms and molecules are pretty much everywhere. From the iron-heavy center of Earth to the hydrogen-rich envelope of distant stars, nuclei and their attendant electrons are ubiquitous. It makes sense, then, that astronomers would want to sort out what atoms and molecules make up which astronomical objects and swim in the space between them. But they cannot just reach out, grab a hunk of star, and bring it back to the lab. They must do the analysis remotely and, as always in astronomy, using only light that telescopes passively receive.

Luckily for astronomers, each element and molecule, when heated or excited or transitioning, emits specific, discrete wavelengths of light. This radiation is the atom’s or compound’s fingerprint, uniquely identifying it, whether it lives on Earth or in space.

The full text of this article is available to registered users of Astronomy.com. Register now!

Registration is FREE and takes only a few seconds to complete. If you are already registered on Astronomy.com, please log in below.
ADVERTISEMENT

FREE EMAIL NEWSLETTER

Receive news, sky-event information, observing tips, and more from Astronomy's weekly email newsletter.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
BoxProductcovernov

Click here to receive a FREE e-Guide exclusively from Astronomy magazine.

Find us on Facebook

Loading...