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Spectroscopy is the study of the interaction between matter and radiated energy. Historically, spectroscopy originated through the study of visible light dispersed according to its wavelength, e.g., by a prism. Later the concept was expanded greatly to comprise any interaction with radiative energy as a function of its wavelength or frequency. Spectroscopic data is often represented by a spectrum, a plot of the response of interest as a function of wavelength or frequency.

Spectrometry and spectrography are terms used to refer to the measurement of radiation intensity as a function of wavelength and are often used to describe experimental spectroscopic methods. Spectral measurement devices are referred to as spectrometers, spectrophotometers, spectrographs or spectral analyzers.

Daily observations of color can be related to spectroscopy. Neon lighting is a direct application of atomic spectroscopy. Neon and other noble gases have characteristic emission colors, and neon lamps use electricity to excite these emissions. Inks, dyes and paints include chemical compounds selected for their spectral characteristics in order to generate specific colors and hues. A commonly encountered molecular spectrum is that of nitrogen dioxide. Gaseous nitrogen dioxide has a characteristic red absorption feature, and this gives air polluted with nitrogen dioxide a reddish brown color. Rayleigh scattering is a spectroscopic scattering phenomenon that accounts for the color of the sky.

Spectroscopic studies were central to the development of quantum mechanics and included Max Planck's explanation of blackbody radiation, Albert Einstein's explanation of the photoelectric effect and Niels Bohr's explanation of atomic structure and spectra. Spectroscopy is used in physical and analytical chemistry because atoms and molecules have unique spectra. These spectra can be interpreted to derive information about the atoms and molecules, and they can also be used to detect, identify and quantify chemicals. Spectroscopy is also used in astronomy and remote sensing. Most research telescopes have spectrographs. The measured spectra are used to determine the chemical composition and physical properties of astronomical objects (such as their temperature and velocity).


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