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Physics 73.1 Mid Year A.Y.

2017 - 2018

Name: Experiment Date:

Date Submitted:
Section: Score:

Prelab: Light Spectra

Read the manual then answer the following items:

1. What is the difference between a continuous light spectrum and a discrete light
spectrum? Give two examples for each.

2. What are the spectral colors of mercury and helium?

3. Sketch the spectral composition of sunlight.

Figure P1: Spectrum of Sunlight: Intensity vs Wavelength (×102 nm)

Prelab: Light Spectra P1

Light Spectra


At the end of the activity, the student should be able to:

• differentiate between continuous and discrete spectra of light sources.

• be familiar with the line spectra of elemental light sources.

• observe bright and faint first order-spectral lines for the helium gas discharge tube.


White light, such as sunlight, is a mixture of light waves with many different wavelengths.
The set of wavelengths in the light from an object is called its spectrum. There are two
general types of spectra: continuous and discrete. There is a range of wavelengths in a
continuous spectrum. For example, a rainbow is a continuous spectrum created by water
droplets in the air. In a discrete spectrum, only selected wavelengths are represented.
The light from a neon sign is a selection of discrete wavelengths. In this experiment, we
shall study the light spectra of different light sources using a handheld spectrometer.

Continuous Light Spectra

The spectrum formed from a white light source that contains all colors is known as a
continuous spectrum. Continuous spectra are produced by all incandescent solids and
liquids, and by gases under high pressure. The atoms in incandescent solids are packed
closely together causing the individual energy levels of the atoms to merge together. The
emitted lines then overlap and form a continuous spectrum.

Discrete or Line Spectra

Gases that are not too dense or large may be excited by electrical discharge and emit
light at characteristic frequencies or wavelengths. When the emitted light passes through
a prism, discrete lines are seen at specific wavelengths. The set of these individual lines
is called an emission spectrum which is often referred to as line spectrum.

Light Spectra 1
Physics 73.1 Mid Year A.Y. 2017 - 2018

The discrete lines in the emission spectrum can be explained by treating light as a
photon that is emitted by an atom. In the quantum model of the atom, electrons exist
only in specific energy states. The photon emitted from an atom when an electron falls
from an excited energy state to a lower state is limited to the difference between these
two states, so only specific energies of light are emitted. The energy of the emitted light
is described by [1].

∆E = (1)
where h is Planck’s constant whose value is h = 6.626 × 10−34 Js and λ is the wavelength
of the light source.

Different materials conduct heat at different rates. For instance, metals are good
(fast) conductors of heat because valence electrons that wander around the surface of the
metal can easily carry energy to cooler regions. In contrast, rubber and wood are poor
conductors because their outer electrons are tightly bound to the parent atoms.

The electronic state of the elements in the periodic table can also be explained by
the atomic quantum model. Since every element is uniquely identified by the number of
protons in its nucleus, every element in the periodic table has a distinct set of electron
energy levels. For a given element only photons of specific energies can be emitted. Thus
when measuring the emission spectrum of an element, only certain wavelengths of light
are allowed and the spectrum that is produced is unique for that element.

In the experiment, a gas discharge tube is used. A gas element is stored in a glass dis-
charge tube with a metal electrode at each end. When a high voltage is applied between
the electrodes the gas ionizes and the tube will glow. The diagram of a gas discharge
tube is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: A gas discharge tube [2].

The Handheld Spectrometer

The handheld spectrometer is compact but less precise spectrometer which can be used
to observe and record the wavelengths of light emitted by gas discharge tubes. This
spectrometer contains a slit, diffraction grating and a built-in scale. Figure 2 shows
the handheld spectrometer with its parts. Light enters through the slit and strikes the
diffraction grating. The light is then dispersed into a spectrum of wavelengths. When
viewed through the diffraction grating, the resulting spectrum will appear superimposed
above the built-in scale. The wavelengths of the spectral lines can be measured using the
built-in scale to an accuracy within 50 Å.

Light Spectra 2
Physics 73.1 Mid Year A.Y. 2017 - 2018

Figure 2: The handheld spectrometer.


The following materials are required for the experiment:

• Handheld spectrometer

• Helium, Mercury, and Neon gas discharge tubes

• High voltage power supply

• Incandescent bulb

• Fluorescent lamp

• Crayons or Color Pencils


1. Insert the mercury discharge tube into the high voltage power supply carefully.
Connect the plug to an outlet and switch on the power supply.

2. Position the slit of the handheld spectrometer near the discharge tube.

3. Look through the diffraction grating. Sketch the observed spectrum in Figure W1.
Note that the numbers indicate the wavelength values in 102 nm.

4. Turn off the power supply, disconnect the plug and then replace the mercury dis-
charge tube with a helium discharge tube.

5. Connect the plug and turn on the power supply then sketch the observed spectrum
in Figure W2.

6. Repeat the process for neon discharge tube, incandescent bulb, and fluorescent
lamp. Sketch the spectral lines in Figures W3 to W5.

Light Spectra 3
Physics 73.1 Mid Year A.Y. 2017 - 2018

Group Members: Date Performed:

Date Submitted:
Section: Score:

Data Sheet

A. Mercury

Figure W1: Spectrum of Mercury light

B. Helium

Figure W2: Spectrum of Helium light

C. Neon

Figure W3: Spectrum of Neon light

Worksheet: Light Spectra W1

Physics 73.1 Mid Year A.Y. 2017 - 2018

D. Incandescent Bulb

Figure W4: Spectrum of Incandescent lamp

E. Fluorescent Lamp

Figure W5: Spectrum of Fluorescent lamp

Worksheet: Light Spectra W2

Physics 73.1 Mid Year A.Y. 2017 - 2018


1. Classify the spectrum of the observed light sources as to continuous, discrete or


2. When you looked at the helium gas with the diffraction grating which first order-
spectral line appeared the brightest? faintest? Why does this line appear to be
brighter than the other though they are both in the first order?

3. Based from your observed spectrum of fluorescent lamp, identify its element/s com-

Worksheet: Light Spectra W3