Frequency spectrum

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The frequency spectrum of a time-domain signal is a representation of that signal in the frequency domain. The frequency spectrum can be generated via a Fourier transform of the signal, and the resulting values are usually presented as amplitude and phase, both plotted versus frequency.[1]

Any signal that can be represented as an amplitude that varies with time has a corresponding frequency spectrum. This includes familiar concepts such as visible light (color), musical notes, radio/TV channels, and even the regular rotation of the earth. When these physical phenomena are represented in the form of a frequency spectrum, certain physical descriptions of their internal processes become much simpler. Often, the frequency spectrum clearly shows harmonics, visible as distinct spikes or lines, that provide insight into the mechanisms that generate the entire signal.



A source of light can have many colors mixed together and in different amounts (intensities). A rainbow, or prism, sends the different frequencies in different directions, making them individually visible at different angles. A graph of the intensity plotted against the frequency (showing the amount of each color) is the frequency spectrum of the light. When all the visible frequencies are present in equal amounts, the perceived color of the light is white, and the spectrum is a flat line. Therefore, flat-line spectrums in general are often referred to as white, whether they represent light or something else.


Similarly, a source of sound can have many different frequencies mixed together. A musical tone's timbre is characterized by its harmonic spectrum. Sound in our environment that we refer to as noise includes many different frequencies. When the frequency spectrum of a sound signal is flat, it is called white noise also known as harmonics.


In radio and telecommunications, the frequency spectrum can be shared among many different broadcasters. Each broadcast radio and TV station transmits a wave on an assigned frequency range, called a channel. When many broadcasters are present, the radio spectrum consists of the sum of all the individual channels, each carrying separate information, spread across a wide frequency spectrum. Any particular radio receiver will detect a single function of amplitude (voltage) vs. time. The radio then uses a tuned circuit or tuner to select a single channel or frequency band and demodulate or decode the information from that broadcaster. If we made a graph of the strength of each channel vs. the frequency of the tuner, it would be the frequency spectrum of the antenna signal.

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