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This image shows spectral information collected from the Earth's moon.
Click on image for full size
NASA

Spectra

Minerals of a planet's surface, and molecules of an atmosphere give off light of various colors. Some rocks emit more light in the blue end of the spectrum than the red, and so on. These colors are very hard to see without special cameras. The colors are different for each individual mineral or molecule, and is called that mineral or molecule's spectra. Thus the spectra of a mineral or molecule is like a human fingerprint, and can be used to identify it.

When studying the planets, scientists use special cameras which can collect separate colors of light. Instruments such as these help scientists determine what a planet is made from. Such an instrument is called a spectrometer.

The picture shows what information is gained from spectra. (The colors of the picture have been falsely changed). Pink is very old pulverized ground, oranges and blues are lava flows, light blue are areas which are rich in minerals which have come from meteorites.


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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA