Astronomy Picture of the Day
Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.
2013 November 15
The Flash Spectrum of the Sun
Image Credit & Copyright: Constantine Emmanouilidi
Explanation: In a flash, the visible spectrum of the Sun changed from absorption to emission on November 3rd, during the brief total phase of a solar eclipse. That fleeting moment is captured by telephoto lens and diffraction grating in this well-timed image from clearing skies over Gabon in equatorial Africa. With overwhelming light from the Sun’s disk blocked by the Moon, the normally dominant absorption spectrum of the solar photosphere is hidden. What remains, spread by the diffraction grating into the spectrum of colors to the right of the eclipsed Sun, are individual eclipse images at each wavelength of light emitted by atoms along the thin arc of the solar chromosphere. The brightest images, or strongest chromospheric emission lines, are due to Hydrogen atoms that produce the red hydrogen alpha emission at the far right and blue hydrogen beta emission to the left. In between, the bright yellow emission image is caused by atoms of Helium, an element only first discovered in the flash spectrum of the Sun.