Radio telescope arrays consist

Types of Astronomical

Astronomy / November 25, 2019

Different celestial objects produce different types of spectra. The spectrum of an object is one means of identifying what type of object it is. How different spectra arise is shown in the schematic diagram below.

Credit: Adapted from a diagram by James B. Kaler, in "Stars and their Spectra, " Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Figure 1: How continuous, emission and absorption spectra can be produced from same source.

Spectrum of a star showing absorption features.Continuum spectrum: In this diagram, a dense hot object such as the core of a star acts like a black body radiator. If we were able to view the light from this source directly without any intervening matter then the resultant spectrum would appear to be a continuum as shown bottom left in the Figure 1 above.

Absorption spectrum: Most stars are surrounded by outer layers of gas that are less dense than the core. The photons emitted from the core cover all frequencies (and energies).Comparison of photographic and intensity plot spectra for an A3 V star Photons of specific frequency can be absorbed by electrons in the diffuse outer layer of gas, causing the electron to change energy levels. Eventually the electron will de-excite and jump down to a lower energy level, emitting a new photon of specific frequency. The direction of this re-emission however is random so the chances of it travelling in the same path as the original incident photon is very small. The net effect of this is that the intensity of light at the wavelength of that photon will be less in the direction of an observer. This means that the resultant spectrum will show dark absorption lines or a decrease in intensity as shown in the dips in the absorption spectrum top right in the diagram above.Photo of Eta Carinae, an HII region Stellar spectra typically look like this.

Emission spectrum: A third possibility occurs if an observer is not looking directly at a hot black body source but instead at a diffuse cloud of gas that is not a black body. If this cloud can be excited by a nearby source of energy such as hot, young stars or an active galactic nucleus then the electrons in atoms of the gas cloud can get excited. When they de-excite they emit photons of specific frequency and wavelength. As these photons can re emitted in any direction an external observer will detect light at these wavelengths. The spectrum formed is an emission or bright line spectrum, as shown by the middle spectrum in Figure 1.

Let us know use these basic principles to account for and compare spectra produced by different types of astronomical objects.

Infra-red raw and corrected spectrum of Eta Carinae Planetary Nebula NGC 3132 Galaxy spectra from 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey Spiral galaxy NGC 2997 shoowing H II regions in the spiral arms