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 emit light of various wavelengths. The wavelengths of light which minerals or molecules emit is characteristic of 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 have designed instruments which can collect separate wavelengths of light. The light received from a planet is separated by means of a mirror or several mirrors, into separate wavelengths. Instruments such as these help scientists determine what a planet is made out of. Such an instrument is called a spectrometer.

The image to the left of the Earth's moon was made by examining the moon through different wavelengths of light, then recombining them into one picture. Some minerals emit more light in the blue than the red, and so on. These minerals stand out in the picture. The colors of the picture are enhanced to better show the contrast. Pink is very old, pulverized terrain, oranges and blues are lunar lava flows composed of granite-like rock, light blue are mineral-rich deposits associated with meteorite impacts.


Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Our online store includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, as well as books on science education!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Hubble Detects the First Extrasolar Planetary Atmosphere!

To date, 76 extrasolar planets are known. Yesterday, the first detection of an extrasolar planetary atmosphere was announced! As well, this is the first chemical analysis to be done on the atmosphere of...more

Mars Odyssey

The Mars Odyssey was launched April 7, 2001, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. After a six-month, 285 million-mile journey, the Odyssey arrived at Mars on October 24, 2001 (02:30 Universal...more

Instruments of the Mars Global Surveyor Mission

Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) is conducting mapping operations at Mars more than 30 years after America's first reconnaissance missions reached the mysterious red planet. Here are some of the instruments...more

Headlines declare: Mars Pathfinder Lands on July 4th

The Mars Pathfinder was launched in December 1996 aboard a Delta II rocket. The spacecraft entered the Martian atmosphere on July 4th, 1997 with a Viking-derived heat shield and landed with the help of...more

Questions to answer about Pluto

Pluto is so far away, and has never been explored. Questions to answer about Pluto include the following: What are the geologic features of the surface. (pictures of the surface) If there are bare spots,...more

AU

AU stands for Astronomical Units. Distances in space are too large to measure in Earth standards like miles or kilometers. For distances too large to measue in AU, we use light years. A light year is the...more

The Spiral of the IMF

The solar wind is formed as the Sun's topmost layer blows off into space carrying with it magnetic fields still attached to the Sun. Gusts and disturbances form in the solar wind associated with violent...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF