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What is spectral analysis?

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Quick Answer

Spectral analysis measures and analyzes the properties of matter based on the material's interactions with electromagnetic energy. In chemistry and physics, this process is known as spectroscopy. Spectroscopy is of particular use in astronomy, where it is used to determine the chemical composition of celestial objects.

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Visible light, magnetic resonance, infrared radiation, X-rays, gamma radiation and ultraviolet radiation are all elements of spectroscopy. Examining the interaction between matter and these different kinds of light reveals different properties about the matter. Research scientists use spectroscopy to detect different types of matter. Astronomers rely on spectroscopy to see objects that do not emit visible light.

Spectroscopy works because different chemical bonds vibrate at different wavelengths when exposed to radiation. Scientists examine the pattern of vibration to determine the chemical makeup of the matter under analysis. A spectroscope is the instrument researchers use to view this pattern.

In addition to its use in astronomy, spectroscopy is a valuable tool in quantum and high-energy physics, crystallography, laser and maser technology, and determining the age and weathering of exposed wood. Molecular spectroscopy is the technology that led to the development of the laser. Spectroscopic analysis of hydrogen allows the development of quantum electrodynamics and the study of increasingly small subatomic particles.

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