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Telescope Lab V

Stellar Spectroscopy

This is an advanced lab activity which requires familiarity with the telescope,  precise focusing, and careful observing.
Summary: In this lab you will use a visual spectroscope to observe the spectra of several bright stars, identify spectral features, and determine their spectral classes.  When seen through a spectroscope, stars reveal their "personality" in  beautiful, vivid colors!  Due to their high cost, we have a limited number of spectroscopes (7) so not everyone will be able to do this lab on the same night.

Materials needed:  Visual spectroscope (to be checked out), spectral classification chart (also to be checked out), 25 mm eyepiece, log book.



Do's and don'ts about the visual spectroscope:

The visual spectroscopes are checked out separately from the telescopes .  They are expensive pieces of equipment and we cannot afford to buy more or to replace damaged units.  Therefore:

Using the visual spectroscope:

What you are seeing through the spectroscope:

The spectroscope generates several new images.  The star, is now much dimmer and appears as an orange streak.  To either side of the star, you will see the colorful "first order" spectrum.  One side is closer to the center of the field of view and it is also much brighter, by design. Most of the light of the star has been deflected into one side of the "first order "spectrum, which is why the star looks much dimmer.  Further away from the star, you will see a faint, colorless, ghostly streak (at the right edge of the field of view in the diagram).  This is the "second order" spectrum of the star.  It is the same spectrum, but with twice as much stretching in wavelength.  It is colorless because it is much fainter (a visual perception effect).   For the majority of stars, the second order spectrum will be too faint to be of interest.  For the brightest stars, however, you may be able to see additional spectral lines which are not discernible in the bright first order spectrum.  It is a good idea to also inspect the second order spectrum.

What to observe:

Below are 4 tables of bright stars from which you will select your targets for spectroscopic observations.  Note that not all stars are visible in a given season/semester.   It is recommended that you start with the brightest stars (at the top of each table) which are currently visible in the sky.  All of these stars are plotted on the long constellation chart (SC001) which you should use to identify and
locate them.  You need to observe at least 2 stars from Table 1,  2 stars from Table 2, and 1 star from Table 3.  During the Fall semester, you also need to observe the star in Table 4.  This is the bare minimum required for this lab and you are encouraged to observe more stars from each list.   You can also try your luck on other stars which are not listed (after you have met the above minimum requirement), keeping in mind that fainter stars will be much harder to observe with the spectroscope.


 Star Name
  Right Ascension
Alpha Canis Major (Sirius)
 6h 45min
-16  43' 
Alpha Lyra (Vega)
 18h 37min
+38  47' 
Beta Orion (Rigel)
 5h 14min
-8  12' 
Alpha Aquila (Altair)
 19h 51min
+8  52' 
Alpha Virgo (Spica)
13h 25min
-11  09' 
Alpha Pisces Austrinus (Fomalhaut)
 22h 58min
-29  37' 
 Alpha Cygnus (Deneb)
 20h 41min
 +45  16'
Alpha Leo (Regulus)
 10h 08min
+11  58' 
 Alpha Gemini (Castor)
 7h 35min
+31  53' 
Alpha Andromeda (Alpheratz)
 0h 08min
 +29   05'
Alpha Pegasus (Markab)
 23h 05min
 +15  12'



 Star Name
 Right Ascension
Alpha Orion (Betelgeuse)
 5h 55min
+7  24' 
Alpha Taurus (Aldebaran)
 4h 36min
+16  30' 
Alpha Scorpius (Antares)
 16h 29min
-26  26' 
Beta Andromeda 
 1h 10min
+35  37' 
Beta Pegasus
 23h 04min
+28  05' 
Alpha Hercules
17h 15min
+14  23' 


 Star Name
Right Ascension
Alpha Bootes (Arcturus)
 14h 16min
+19  11' 
Alpha Auriga (Capella)
 5h 17min
+46  00' 
Alpha Canis Minor (Procyon)
 7h 39min 
+5  14' 
Beta Gemini (Pollux)
7h 45min
+28  01'
Alpha Aries 
 2h 07min
+23  28' 
Beta Cetus (Diphda)
 0h 43min
-17  59'
Gamma Andromeda
 2h 04min
+42  20' 


 Star Name
 Right Ascension
Beta Cygnus (Albireo)
19h 31min
+27  58'


What to record in your observing log:

Below is the record (sketch and notes) of an actual observation made with this equipment (Try to write more neatly though).

Note on Beta Cygnus (Albireo):  You will notice that this is a binary star with a strong color contrast between the two components.  Orient the
spectroscope so that the spectra of the two stars are side by side (i.e. with minimal overlap) so you can study them separately.  It is unlikely that you will see any spectral line in either star.  What you need to pay attention to is the appearance of the continuum spectrum (the colors), and the differences between the two (if you see any).


After you have completed your observations:

You can now make sense of your observations, either  indoors at a later time (on a cloudy lab night, for example) or at the end of the lab.   You will need the stellar spectra chart  (ask your TA), which is a check out item and needs to be returned when you are done.  The chart contains an article that reviews stellar spectroscopy at the introductory level and it will help to refresh your memory by reading it.

Some neat color figures of stellar spectra and the emission lines of the principle elements can be found at .   Click on "Data/Simulation", then "Astronomical spectra on the Web" and then either of "Color plots of the spectra of stars along the main sequence" or "Color plots of the optical emission line spectra of the elements".
The analysis of your observations is done  by comparing them with the color spectra shown at the bottom of the chart (p49).  For each star you observed:

Note:  It is not hard to look up the "right answer" with information readily available to you.  Getting the  "right answer" is not what will get you a better grade, but rather the care you took in making the observations, how you analyze them and the conclusion you reach.  Imperfect observations are expected and are the norm in real life.  So brush away the temptation to "cheat" and do this lab honestly.  It will be much more interesting for you and you will learn more.

Additional questions:


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