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Lecture 06 - The Nature of Light

1. Temperature

2. Light as a Wave

3. The Electromagnetic Spectrum

4. Colors & Spectra

5. The Doppler Effect

Temperature Celsius Fahrenheit

Water Boils 100! 212"

Water Freezes 0! 32"

To convert between Celsius

(Tc) and Fahrenheit (Tf):
TC = (TF ! 32 )
Kelvin 0!
• Uses the same scale as celsius,
but with the zero point shifted

• How far down?

0 K = -273!

• Temperature measures the kinetic motion of atoms.

• 0 K represents the state of minimum atomic motion,

called “Absolute Zero”.
Q: A star’s temperature is 6000 K. What is its
temperature in degrees Celsius and Fahrenheit?

In degrees Celsius the star’s temperature is:

6000 - 273 = 5727!.

In degrees Fahrenheit it is:

( 5727 ) + 32 = 10,341"
The Wave Nature of Light v = f!
The Color Spectrum
• Newton theorized that light consisted of tiny
fast-moving particles.

• He showed that color was a fundamental

property of light by showing that a prism does
not add color to light.
• White light is made up of light at many different
wavelengths, all traveling at the same speed.

• The speed of light in a vacuum is about 300

million meters per second (186 thousand miles
per second).

• The actual color we see is a manifestation of the

system that sees it (our eyes, nerves and brain).
The Electromagnetic Spectrum
Blocked by Blocked by Blocked by
ozone and water and high-
oxygen carbon altitude
dioxide electric
The Colors of Planets and Stars
Materials on the surfaces and atmospheres of
the planets:
I) absorb some wavelengths
II) and reflect combinations of wavelengths
These combine to appear as the colors we see.
Color as a measure of temperature

Wien’s Law:

2, 900, 000
!max =

Blackbody Radiation:
• Radiation from a theoretical object that is a
perfect absorber and emitter of radiation.
• Almost all objects of interest in astronomy
can be approximated as blackbodies.
The Stefan-Boltzmann Law

“The hotter an object is, the more radiation it emits.”

F = !T 4

F = Energy Flux (energy emitted per unit time per unit area)
T = Temperature (Kelvin)
# = Stefan-Boltzmann constant (relates Flux & Temperature)
Types of Spectra

Continuous Spectrum:

• A continuous spectrum contains an entire range of

wavelengths rather than separate, discrete wavelengths.

• Examples include the heated filament of a lamp and a

glowing piece of iron in a blacksmith’s forge.
Many continuous spectra have “absorption lines”
Absorption Lines

Emission Lines
If gases are heated until they emit light, a spectrum of
bright lines appears.
Kirchhoff’s Laws

1. A hot, dense glowing object (a solid or a dense gas)

emits a continuous spectrum.

2. A hot, low-density gas emits light only at certain

wavelengths, producing a line spectrum.

3. When light having a continuous spectrum passes

through a cool gas, dark lines appear in the
continuous spectrum.
Neils Bohr connected Kirchhoff’s Laws and
matter in 1913 with his model of the atom.

Electron Photon • Electrons orbit a nucleus

with certain energies.

• An electron can move

from one energy level to
another, changing the
Nucleus energy of the atom.

• The energy of a photon

determines the frequency
of light associated with
the photon.
The energy of the photon is related to its frequency
by the equation:
E = energy of the photon
E = hf f = frequency of the photon
h = Planck’s constant

• An emission spectrum is made of discrete wavelengths

of light.
• These wavelengths correspond to the energy
transitions permitted within the atom of an element.
• Emission spectra are valuable for identifying elements
by their unique spectral “fingerprint”.
The Solar Spectrum

The photosphere (the visible surface of the Sun)

emits a continuous spectrum.

The Solar spectrum shows absorption lines

because light must pass through the Sun’s
atmosphere (and the Earth’s atmosphere).
The Doppler Effect

• The Doppler effect is the observed change in

wavelength of waves from a source moving
towards or away from an observer.

• It is most well known as a change in pitch of

sound waves when a speeding car or train
blowing its horn passes by.

• In front of the moving source one hears higher

frequency sound.

• Behind the source one hears lower frequency

The Doppler Effect in Astronomy

Galaxy moves away from us

Spectrum is red-shifted
Measuring the Doppler motion of Stars

Star moves
towards us:
Spectrum is

Star moves
away from us:
Spectrum is
1. Temperature

2. Light as a Wave

3. The Electromagnetic Spectrum

4. Colors & Spectra

5. The Doppler Effect