The Evolving Universe

Smithsonian Institution

Solar spectrum

Spectrum of the sun

Credit: NOAO/NSO/AURA/NSF

Observers: Nigel Sharp

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When the light from our Sun - or any other star - passes through a spectroscope, the light waves are separated into a spectrum of colors with dark, vertical lines throughout. Each chemical element absorbs certain wavelengths of light represented by the dark lines and emits others represented by the colors.

The pattern of dark lines tells us that the Sun's atmosphere is mostly hydrogen and helium with traces of oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, silicon, magnesium, iron, neon and sulfur.

  • Distance from Earth: 8.3 light minutes
  • Telescope: KPNO/FTS
  • Light: Visible (392-692 nm)