1. A luminous, hot solid, or dense, hot gas, emits light of all wavelengths and so produces a continuous spectrum of radiation. 2. A low density hot gas emits light, the spectrum of which consists of discreet, bright lines. This emission spectrum is indicative of the chemical composition of the gas. 3. A cool, low pressure gas absorbs light at specific wavelengths or colors. This occurs in all normal stars. This absorption spectrum reveals the presence of chemical elements.
Spreading the light of a star through a spectroscope reveals the chemical composition of that star, among other things.  Franhoufer first saw dark lines in the spectrum of the Sun.  In the nineteenth century, Gustav Kirchoff developed three laws which describe the different types of spectra  that we see, and explains the source of each type.
The spectrum of hydrogen is most important to us, since that is the primary component of stars.  Electrons change energy is specific patterns in hydrogen, creating different series of lines.  The one we might pay attention to is the Balmer series. Detailed study of the spectra of stars led us to classify them with a simple seven letter sequence.    Click here to continue on to the lab exercise
Looking for a particular star?  Find it here!
Carpe Caelum
Carpe Caelum Stellar Astronomy
Carpe Caelum Stellar Astronomy