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Atoms that have absorbed specific photons from a passing beam of white light and have thus become excited generally de-excite themselves and emit that light again in a very short time. You might wonder, then, why dark spectral lines are ever produced. In other words, why doesn’t this reemitted light quickly “fill in” the darker absorption lines?

Imagine a beam of white light coming toward you through some cooler gas. Some of the reemitted light is actually returned to the beam of white light you see, but this fills in the absorption lines only to a slight extent. The reason is that the atoms in the gas reemit light in all directions , and only a small fraction of the reemitted light is in the direction of the original beam (toward you). In a star, much of the reemitted light actually goes in directions leading back into the star, which does observers outside the star no good whatsoever.

[link] summarizes the different kinds of spectra we have discussed. An incandescent lightbulb produces a continuous spectrum. When that continuous spectrum is viewed through a thinner cloud of gas, an absorption line spectrum can be seen superimposed on the continuous spectrum. If we look only at a cloud of excited gas atoms (with no continuous source seen behind it), we see that the excited atoms give off an emission line spectrum.

Three kinds of spectra.

Types of Spectra. On the left of this figure we see the continuous spectrum of a light source. This is a simple spectrum with all colors present from blue to red. The central portion of the figure shows a cloud of gas through which the light source passes. One resulting spectrum is the same continuous band of color as the light source alone, but with a few vertical black lines crossing the spectrum. These are the wavelengths of light absorbed by the gas the light has passed through. Another spectrum is mostly black, with just a few vertical lines of color. These colored lines are emitted by the gas itself.
When we see a lightbulb or other source of continuous radiation, all the colors are present. When the continuous spectrum is seen through a thinner gas cloud, the cloud’s atoms produce absorption lines in the continuous spectrum. When the excited cloud is seen without the continuous source behind it, its atoms produce emission lines. We can learn which types of atoms are in the gas cloud from the pattern of absorption or emission lines.

Atoms in a hot gas are moving at high speeds and continually colliding with one another and with any loose electrons. They can be excited (electrons moving to a higher level) and de-excited (electrons moving to a lower level) by these collisions as well as by absorbing and emitting light. The speed of atoms in a gas depends on the temperature. When the temperature is higher, so are the speed and energy of the collisions. The hotter the gas, therefore, the more likely that electrons will occupy the outermost orbits, which correspond to the highest energy levels. This means that the level where electrons start their upward jumps in a gas can serve as an indicator of how hot that gas is. In this way, the absorption lines in a spectrum give astronomers information about the temperature of the regions where the lines originate.

Ionization

We have described how certain discrete amounts of energy can be absorbed by an atom, raising it to an excited state and moving one of its electrons farther from its nucleus. If enough energy is absorbed, the electron can be completely removed from the atom—this is called ionization    . The atom is then said to be ionized. The minimum amount of energy required to remove one electron from an atom in its ground state is called its ionization energy.

Still-greater amounts of energy must be absorbed by the now-ionized atom (called an ion    ) to remove an additional electron deeper in the structure of the atom. Successively greater energies are needed to remove the third, fourth, fifth—and so on—electrons from the atom. If enough energy is available, an atom can become completely ionized, losing all of its electrons. A hydrogen atom, having only one electron to lose, can be ionized only once; a helium atom can be ionized twice; and an oxygen atom up to eight times. When we examine regions of the cosmos where there is a great deal of energetic radiation, such as the neighborhoods where hot young stars have recently formed, we see a lot of ionization going on.

An atom that has become positively ionized has lost a negative charge—the missing electron—and thus is left with a net positive charge. It therefore exerts a strong attraction on any free electron. Eventually, one or more electrons will be captured and the atom will become neutral (or ionized to one less degree) again. During the electron-capture process, the atom emits one or more photons. Which photons are emitted depends on whether the electron is captured at once to the lowest energy level of the atom or stops at one or more intermediate levels on its way to the lowest available level.

Just as the excitation of an atom can result from a collision with another atom, ion, or electron (collisions with electrons are usually most important), so can ionization. The rate at which such collisional ionizations occur depends on the speeds of the atoms and hence on the temperature of the gas—the hotter the gas, the more of its atoms will be ionized.

The rate at which ions and electrons recombine also depends on their relative speeds—that is, on the temperature. In addition, it depends on the density of the gas: the higher the density, the greater the chance for recapture, because the different kinds of particles are crowded more closely together. From a knowledge of the temperature and density of a gas, it is possible to calculate the fraction of atoms that have been ionized once, twice, and so on. In the Sun, for example, we find that most of the hydrogen and helium atoms in its atmosphere are neutral, whereas most of the calcium atoms, as well as many other heavier atoms, are ionized once.

The energy levels of an ionized atom are entirely different from those of the same atom when it is neutral. Each time an electron is removed from the atom, the energy levels of the ion, and thus the wavelengths of the spectral lines it can produce, change. This helps astronomers differentiate the ions of a given element. Ionized hydrogen, having no electron, can produce no absorption lines.

Key concepts and summary

When electrons move from a higher energy level to a lower one, photons are emitted, and an emission line can be seen in the spectrum. Absorption lines are seen when electrons absorb photons and move to higher energy levels. Since each atom has its own characteristic set of energy levels, each is associated with a unique pattern of spectral lines. This allows astronomers to determine what elements are present in the stars and in the clouds of gas and dust among the stars. An atom in its lowest energy level is in the ground state. If an electron is in an orbit other than the least energetic one possible, the atom is said to be excited. If an atom has lost one or more electrons, it is called an ion and is said to be ionized. The spectra of different ions look different and can tell astronomers about the temperatures of the sources they are observing.

Questions & Answers

In planet mars there the life exits or not and is there water there
Eshwarsa Reply
see till now nothing can be found as u know that the curiosity rover has struck in mars
Maya
what is your opinion about the theory of Vedas about modern physics..
Manish Reply
i think in some ways vedas are also correct but not everytime
Maya
I agree
sakshi
hmm even I agree
Samuel
Is there any patened theory about time relativitg in growth and development?
donot Reply
some astronomer's says that there is no alien exist but why search for extra terrestrial intelligence center is established
Eshwarsa Reply
No One Knows That For Absolute Fact, The Universe Is Too Huge To Have Any Type Of Idea About What Exist In The Far Reaches Of Our Universe.....
Adam
Check Out The Drake Equation.....
Adam
their should be aliens as like ours there would be another planet
Maya
which could have existed life on it
Maya
adam i want to ask a question
Maya
can kepler 1st law be applied on all the planets of the universe
Maya
hello, anyone home?
Denise
sjskskfhjkkktewqqw and try?
Lanika Reply
what is this ?
Samuel
hi I am Samuel from India mumbai
Samuel
nice to meet you
Samuel
thats my question, what is this?
penzias and wilson's a discovery of the cosmic microwave background is a nice example of scientific serendipity-something that is found by chance but turns out to have a positive outcome
Jacqueline Reply
how should I make my carrier in astronomy
Ayush Reply
I think that Newton's third law is not appropriate if any also thinks like this please reply me
Ayush
Can you explain your reasoning
Huh
why u think so
joseph
yes Ayush u are right
Yoganshu
I think when we apply force to a object it start moving but , a/c to Newton's third law every action has equal and opposite reaction,so object should also exert equal force on us and it should not move due to balanced force
Ayush
if I am not right then reply me
Ayush
no
Zack
because of friction that opposes that force and help us to move ahead
Manish
but this is not satisfied as third law say another thing
Ayush
you are telling why object moves
Ayush
you have to think a/c to third law
Ayush
its because of its mass
Maya
because it is applying equal and opposite force but also our mass is also less in comparison to the object
Maya
which is why we cant move the object but it can make move us
Maya
manish is too correct in his place because we need to apply force which would overcome the frictional force
Maya
My dear friends, can u plz tell me that among u guys who are in the field of cosmology
Madhav Reply
😢I am not there in cosmology
Samuel
Just A Science Fan.....
Adam
Adam even I am 😥😅😅😂😂
Samuel
I am also not in cosmology but I am just a fan or we can say science and part of NASA is my dream
Yoganshu
yoganshu Arya same here
Samuel
you are from which country
Yoganshu
hi yoganshu
Samuel
India
Samuel
which state
Samuel
I am also from India
Yoganshu
from delhi
Yoganshu
and u...?
Yoganshu
I am from Maharashtra
Samuel
from which state?
Yoganshu
You are a ASTRONOMER ...
Yoganshu
or a scientist..
Yoganshu
or just a member
Yoganshu
What is time...? not about Newton= time is constant..... that all scientists openions n point of view I m knowing. . what can be the Perfect Definition of Time
Madhav Reply
time is what clock reads
Ayush
Who is the best astronomer of India at present time
Gian Reply
Jayant Narlikar, Proponent Of Steady State Cosmology.....
Adam
What is the real colour of sun rays
Gian Reply
white.. so white it becomes violet.. so violet it become ultraviolet
Tom
white and red and yellow
Bianca
Vibgyor
Samuel
the real colour of sunlight is White
Madhav
the Sun's has a variety of waves all throughout the elextromagnetic spectrum.
Jacie
we only see it as a few bc of how some of them get redshifted (? can that term be applied for something so local?) by some particles in our upper atmosphere
Jacie
Vibgyor will be when, the white light will pass through the clouds ( prism ) then Refraction phenomenon leads us to 7 colours splitting from a single colour "White " light
Madhav
so the sun rays r of White colour
Madhav
Taurus in astronomy and horoscope?
Yasser Reply
how to put E=MC2
Gospel Reply
What Do You Mean By How To Put?
Adam
What Do You Mean By How To Put?
Adam
What Do You Mean By "How To Put E=MC2?
Adam
yep
Gospel
Hi guys
Samuel
i mean how NASA came to know the mass and diameters of Stars.how?
Gospel
how did they do using E=MC2
Gospel
thats my questioning
Gospel
that's easy formula's derivation
Madhav
why all planets revolving orbits are nearly in equal inclination?
Kartik Reply
***medium.com/starts-with-a-bang/ask-ethan-82-why-are-the-planets-all-in-the-same-plane-4470245c8743
rishabh
dependent on the mass
Madhav
no
Janak
I think because of the Suns gravity pull ,😕😕
Samuel
Samuel,. it's but obvious
Madhav
what hubbel's law. and examples on it.?
Kavyanjali Reply
Hubbel's Law is a Expanding Universe. The distant galaxies we see in all directions are moving away from the Earth, as evidenced by their red shifts. Hubble's law describes this expansion.
Роза
okk. sir/madam, i studied that all 3 laws.
Kavyanjali
i m solving examples on "p" square directly proportional to "a"cube
Kavyanjali
Practice Key Terms 4

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Source:  OpenStax, Astronomy. OpenStax CNX. Apr 12, 2017 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11992/1.13
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