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PHYSICS 190: LAB III


SPECTRAL CLASSIFICATION:
LABORATORY AND OBSERVATORY
Goals
Use

a simple spectrometer to observe sources that illustrate the three categories of


spectra: i) the continuous spectrum produced by an ordinary incandescent filament; ii)
the emission spectra produced by three different mystery gases, and iii) the absorption spectra in the Suns light (assuming reasonably clear skies!).
Try to identify the mystery gases by comparing your observations of their emission
spectra with a standard laboratory reference of the spectra of many different elements.
Test drive a simulated spectrometer at the CLEA Virtual Observatory.

Equipment
1) Diffraction-grating and eyeglass spectrometers. 2) Mystery gas discharge tubes.
3) Wall chart of the spectral lines of various elements. 4) Computers with CLEA installed.

Background
You will observe spectra using a simple diffraction-grating spectrometer, which uses a
transparent plastic sheet (or grating) with finely-spaced parallel grooves. The grating reinforces the tendency of light to diffract (or bend) when going through an opening, causing
light of different wavelengths to emerge at different angles: this enables the identification of
the wavelength of a particular colour of light from the diffraction angle. The blue-plastic
spectrometer allows you to determine spectral line wave lengths. You will also tryout some
eyeglasses that are made with diffraction gratings instead of lenses.
The lab has two parts. In Part I, you do real laboratory observations, in three sections.
In Part II, which has four sections, you will use a simulated spectrometer at the CLEA Virtual Observatory to determine the spectral type of two stars (one of which is Alcyone, the
brightest star in the Pleiades), and to identify some elements in their atmospheres.

I): Spectra in the Laboratory


Ia) Incandescent Filament
1) Use the spectrometer to view white light from an incandescent filament (as your TA for
help with these instructions!).
First,

take a look at the source through the eyeglass spectrometer. You will see rainbows of continuous colour on both sides of the filament.
Next, take the blue plastic spectrometer and point the entrance slit of the spectrometer towards the filament, and look through the viewing hole: when properly lined up,
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the entrance slit will be a bright vertical line on one side, and on the other side you will
see a continuous spectrum of colours.
Above the spectrum is a scale that gives a physical position along the inside of the
spectrometer housing in centimetres, and below the spectrum is a scale that gives the
wavelength of the corresponding colour of light in nanometers (nm).

2) Record the approximate spread in wavelength of each colour in the following table.
(units: nm)

RED

ORANGE

YELLOW

GREEN

BLUE

VIOLET

From:
To:
Note: The spectrometer you are using has been calibrated so that the physical location of a spectral line on the scale can be read off as the wavelength of that colour of
light. Different colours get bent by different amounts when passing through the diffraction grating (red bends more than blue, for instance), so the spread across the
scale is proportional to the wavelength. The calibration can be done by measuring the
positions of some spectral lines of known wavelength produced by standard sources.

Ib) Emission spectra of three mystery gases


1) Use the eyeglass spectrometer to view the discrete spectral lines produced by the
three mystery gases.
The gases are contained inside discharge tubes. An electric voltage applied to the
tube induces electric discharges in the gas; these cause electrons in the gas atoms to
jump to higher-energy atomic levels, after which they make transitions to lower levels,
with the release of radiation at specific wavelengths characteristic of each gas.
2) Now use the blue plastic spectrometer to record the wavelengths of each source
Make

a rough sketch showing the placement of some of the brighter lines in each
spectrum, in the table below, and write down the approximate wavelength next to the
line. Represent the brighter spectral lines with thicker lines in your drawing.
Note: The wall chart may show the colours in an orientation opposite to that in the
spectrometer (i.e. Violet may be on the left on the wall chart, instead of Red).
(units: nm)

RED

ORANGE

YELLOW

GREEN

BLUE

VIOLET

Gas A

Gas B

Gas C

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2) Compare your observations of the three spectra with the standard chart of spectra on
the wall of the laboratory, and try to identify the three mystery gases.
Write your spectral ID of each gas in the table on the next page.
Compare the identifications made by your group with other groups in the lab.
Your TA will tell you what the gases actually are.
Remember, this is a friendly competition ;)!
YOUR ID

OF THE

GAS

ACTUAL ID

Gas A
Gas B
Gas C

Ic) Absorption spectrum of the Sun (if clear skies!)


1) Before you go outside to look at the Suns reflected light, take another look at the continuous spectrum produced by the filament, so you have a fresh mental image of a featureless spectrum.
2) Look at light reflected off a sunlit concrete wall or a white-cardboard surface to view
the absorption spectrum of the Sun, using the blue plastic spectrometer,

DO NOT USE EITHER SPECTROMETER TO LOOK DIRECTLY


AT THE SUN!! LOOK ONLY AT REFLECTED SUNLIGHT!!
3) Sketch the absorption pattern that you see in the table below.
Indicate

the positions of some prominent dark lines, and write down their approximate wavelengths in the table.
You may have to block daylight from your eye in order to see the faint spectrum inside the spectrometer.
RED

ORANGE

YELLOW

GREEN

BLUE

VIOLET

Sun
4) Use the list of solar absorption lines printed on the spectrometer to identify some elements in the Suns atmosphere from your observations.
List

the elements and their wavelengths below, and describe the appearance of the
absorption lines (i.e., compare the thickness and darkness of the different lines).
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Part II) Spectra at the Observatory

Note: CLEA runs only on Windows. The Mac computers in the lab have been installed
with VirtualBox, a Windows emulator. All of the activities are to be carried out within
the Windows emulation. If the emulator is not already running, launch VirtualBox from
the Mac desktop, then click the green arrow in the Virtual Manager dialog.

IIA) Activate the telescope and slew to Pleiades


1) Double click on the VIREO icon on the Windows desktop to launch the observatory
simulator (VIREO=VIRtual Educational Observatory).
2) Login by clicking File>Login: enter the names of the students in your group (leave the
table number blank), click OK, then click Yes to confirm.
3) Connect to the remote observatory by clicking on File > Run Exercise > Classification
of Stellar Spectrum (3rd from the top)
A splash screen will appear with the above graphic: it will take a moment for that to
close and for a VIREO Exercise control panel to open.
4) In the VIREO Exercise panel, click Telescopes > Optical > Access 0.4 Meter.
It will take a few moments for a dialog to appear with You now have control of the
0.4m (16) Telescope. Click OK.
5) Click the switch to open the dome.

6) With the dome now open, click the button below Telescope Control Panel.
7) Click Tracking to turn on the telescopes clock drive.
8) Click Slew > Set Coordinates.

Enter the following Right Ascension (RA) and Declination (Dec):


RA = 3h 46m 10s.
Dec = 240 10 00.

Click OK. Another dialog pops up: click Yes to Confirm the Slew.

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IIB) Activate the Spectrometer and take data


1) Set the View slider to Telescope.
2) Verify that the Instrument slider (right side of dialog) is set to Spectrometer
3) You will see a pair of small red lines, probably somewhat off-centre from the star.
These

lines represent a slit that allows only a narrow beam of light to enter the spectrometer: the spread of colours produced by different points in a beam of light overlap,
and if the beam is too wide the colours will be blended back to white light.
Centre the slit on the star.
4) Click the Access button below the Instrument slide to open the spectrometer control
panel (the VIREO Reticon Spectrometer Reading window).
The panel displays an object number for Alcyone - Object: N2230-02202.
5) Record the apparent magnitude of the star, shown at the bottom of the panel:
App.

Mag (V) = ____________.


6) Click Go to start the spectrometer.
You can think of the spectrometer as a camera that takes an image of the spectrum
produced by a diffraction grating similar to the one you used in the lab.
For fainter stars, a longer exposure is needed to build up a good spectral image.

Alcyone is relatively bright, and a few seconds of exposure are enough. The spectrometer will stop automatically after about 10 seconds.
7) Click File > Data > Save Spectrum.

CLEA will automatically set the filename to the object number: click Save.
Close the spectrometer window: File > Exit Spectrometer
8) Alycone is a blue star, so lets slew to a nearby red one for comparison.

There

is red star near the cluster centre, though it is much fainter than Alcyone.
It has a catalogue number of HIP 18508, and is located at:
RA = 3h 57m 26s and Dec=240 27 43
Instead

of using the automatic slew, try using the manual slew to find it, for more fun!
Switch to the Finder View (you wont be able to do that if the Spectrometer window is
still open), and use the NSEW buttons to move the telescope, watching the RA and
Dec indicators in order to slew the telescope in the right direction.
When you are roughly centred on the star (which is quite faint, with only a few stars
of similar brightness seen in the Finder), switch to the Telescope View, and accurately
centre the spectrometer slit on the star.
9) Open the spectrometer again, which should display Object: N2230-00176.
Record

the stars apparent magnitude: _____________.


10) Start the spectrometer, and since this star is so faint, let it run for about 20 seconds.
Notice how the data points fluctuate noticeably at the beginning of the exposure,
since the image starts off so faint. As the camera exposure increases, the image becomes brighter, and the recorded spectrum becomes more stable.
11) Click File > Data > Save Spectrum to save the data, and File > Exit Spectrometer.
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IIC) Analyze the data


1) In the VIREO Exercise panel, click Tools > Spectral Classification.
2) The Classify Spectra window opens. Click File > Unknown Spectra > Saved Spectra,
and select the file for Alcyone that you saved before (filename N2230-02202).
3) In the same window, Click File > Atlas of Standard Spectra, and in the pop-up window
double click on Main Sequence.
Three

graphs (called traces) are displayed: the spectral reading from your file is
shown in the middle (labelled Unknown), and comparison spectra for two standard
stars in the top and bottom panels.

4) Look at the teal-colored panel in the upper-right of the window: this allows you to
change the comparison spectra, according to a standard labeling of star types that employs a letter followed by a number (e.g. O5).
Well cover stellar classifications in detail in the lectures, but heres a summary.
Astronomers

have developed an alphabetical labeling scheme that has ended up


out of order for historical reasons.
The sequence runs from hotter star to cooler stars using the following letters:
OBAFGKM. A popular nemonic to remember the order is Oh Be A Fine Girl/Guy Kiss
Me (yes, once upon a time, most astronomers were male, and immature).
The letters are linked to colour, and therefore to temperature. Some examples: O
stars are blue, B stars are blue-white, G stars are yellow like our sun, and M stars
are red.
5) Click on the different star types in the teal panel, and look at the traces to find the one
that most closely matches the trace of Alcyone.
You may find it helpful to change the display to show the photograph of the spectrum
that was captured by the camera (in greyscale).
To

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do this, click File > Display > Comb. (Photo plus Trace).
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Another

very useful setting is File > Display > Intensity Trace, followed by File > Display > Show Difference (Std minus Unkn).
Try

to find the spectral type that makes the difference trace comes out as close
to the horizontal (zero) line as possible.

Record

your best estimate of the classification of Alcyone: ______________.

6) Try to identify some elements in the atmosphere of Alcyone.


First,

in the Classify Spectra window, click File > Spectral Line Table, which causes a
pop-up window to appear, with an extensive list of spectral lines for many elements.
The tables gives wavelengths in Angstroms (): 1 = 10-10 m = 10 nm.
Click on the graph for Alcyone (Unknown), near the bottom of a prominent dip in
the spectrum: the Spectral Lines window will select the closest matching line.
See if you can find lines for three different elements (remember that each element
has multiple spectral lines). Record the results in the table below.
7) Repeat the procedure in step 5) to make your best estimate of the classification of the
red star HIP 18508 (filename N2230-00176).
Record your answer for the spectral type of HIP 18508 here: ________________.
8) Repeat the procedure in step 6) to identify some spectral lines in HIP 18508, and
record the results in the table.
ALCYONE
W AV E-

HIP 18508

ELEMENT

W AV E L E N G T H

ELEMENT

()

LENGTH ()

1
2
3
!

IID) Close the observatory


1) Close the Classify Spectra window.
2) In the VIREO Exercise panel, turn off the Telescope Control Panel, then click the
switch to close the dome.
3) Click File > Exit Observatory, and confirm in the popup dialog.

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