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ince astronomers cannot study the universe by bringing it into the lab, and because the vast
majority of celestial objects are too far away to visit, astronomers collect and study those things
that come to Earth from space. Overwhelmingly, this means collecting and studying light emitted
or reected by objects found in the universe. In fact, everything that is known about the universe
beyond the solar system comes from the analysis of the light from distant sources. This chapter examines the properties and utility of light, some of the tools astronomers use to collect and study light, and
what is known about the nearest source of light, the Sun.


To assist you in learning the important concepts in this chapter, focus on the following questions:

What is electromagnetic radiation?

What can a continuous spectrum tell astronomers about stars?
What can be learned about a star from its dark-line spectrum?
What is the Doppler effect?
What is the difference between a retracting telescope and a reecting telescope?
Why do all large telescopes use mirrors rather than lenses to collect light?
What are some of the advantages of radio telescopes over optical telescopes?
Why is the Sun important to the study of astronomy?
What are the four major layers of the Sun?
What phenomenon occurs on Earth as a result of solar ares on the Sun?
What happens to the matter that is consumed in the proton-proton chain reaction?

Signals from Space

Although visible light is most familiar to us, it constitutes only a
tiny sliver of an array of energy referred to as electromagnetic

radiation (ll-:1';<'E .~
Included in this array are gamma rays,
X-rays, ultraviolet light, visible light, irifrarecl radiation (heat),
microwaves, and radio waves
All forms of radiant
energy travel through the vacuum of space in a straight line at the
rate of 300,000 kilometers ( 186,000 miles) per second.55 Over 24
hours, this is a staggering 26 billion kilometers. The light that we
collect tells us about the processes that created it and about the
matter lying between us and the source of the light.

Nature of Light
Experiments have demonstrated that light can be described in

two ways. In some instances light behaves like waves, and in others like discrete particles. In the wave sense, light is analogous to
swells in the ocean. This motion is characterized by wavelengththe distance from one wave crest to the next. Wavelengths vary
from several kilometers for some radio waves to less than a bil-

lionth of a centimeter for gamma rays (Figure 23.2). Most of these

waves are either too long or too short for our eyes to detect; how-

56Light rays are bent slightly when they pass nearby a very massive object such as the

ever, the primary characteristics of all electromagnetic radiation

can be described using visible light as an example.

The extremely narrow band of electromagnetic radiation we
can see (which is labeled as visible light in Figure 23.2) is sometimes referred to as white light. White light consists of an array of
waves having various wavelengths, a fact easily demonstrated with
a prism (j;=

). As white light passes through a prism, the

color with the shortest wavelength, violet, is bent more than blue,
which is bent more than green, and so forth (Table 23.1). Thus,
white light can be separated into its component colors, producing the familiar rainbow of colors (Figure 23.3A).
Wave theory, however, cannot explain some of the observed

characteristics of light. In these cases, light acts like a stream of

particles, analogous to infinitesimally small bullets fired from a
machine gun. These particles, called photons, can exert a pressure (push) on matter, which is called radiation pressure. Recall
that photons from the Sun are responsible for pushing material
away from a comet to produce its dust tail. Each photon has a specic amount of energy, which is related to its wavelength in a simple way: Shorter wavelengths correspond to more energetic photons.
Thus, blue light has more energetic photons than red light.
Which theory of lightthe wave theory or the particle theoryis correct? The answer is that both are correct because each
will predict the behavior of light for certain phenomena. As
George Abell, a prominent astronomer, stated about all scientific
laws, "The mistake is only to apply them to situations that are outside their range of validity.

Signals from Space

A face-on view of the galaxy NGC 1232, located in the southern constellation Eridanus. Despite
being 100 million light-years away, modern telescopes allow astronomers to study its intricate details. Older,
reddish stars are located mainly in the galaxys central region, while young, hot blue stars make up the spiral
arms. (Photo by European Southern Observatories)

Electromagnetic radiation. The electromagnetic spectrum ranges from long-wavelength radio waves to shortwavelength gamma radiation.

UHF ,_@

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CHAPTER 23 Light, Astronomical Observations, and the Sun

CONCEPT cnscx 23.1

Q Vllhat term is used to describe the collection that includes gamma rays,
X-rays, ultraviolet light, visible light,
infrared radiation, microwaves, and
radio waves?
Q Which color has the longest wavelength?
The shortest?
Q How does the amount of energy contained in a photon relate to its wavelength?

I/Vhen Sir Isaac Newton used a prism to disperse white light into its component colors,
he unknowingly initiated the field of

spectroscopythe study of those properties

of light that are wavelength dependent. The
rainbow of colors Newton produced is called
a continuous spectrum, because all waves Formation of the three types of spectra. A. Continuous spectrum. B. Dark-line
spectrum. C. Bright-line spectrum.
lengths of visible light are included. Later it
was learned that two other types of spectra
(darlc line and bright line) exist and that each
one is generated under somewhat different conditions
1 lust as visible light can produce a spectrum, other
Light and Processes
regions of the electromagnetic spectrum can be dispersed to proWhen violent events occur in the universe, large amounts of highduce spectra.
energy radiation are emitted. For example, when matter is
engulfed by a black hole, the result is the emission of high-energy
X-rays. By contrast, when less violent processes occur, small
Continuous Spectrum
amounts of low- energy radiation are released. For example, when
A continuous spectrum is produced by an incandescent (glowa shock wave moves through a gas cloud it heats the cloud, causing) solid, liquid, or gas under high pressure. (Incandescent
ing infrared (heat) energy to be emitted. The intensity of the light
means to emit light when hot") It consists of a continuous band
emitted and its wavelength distribution tells us a lot about the
of wavelengths like that generated by a common 100-watt light
type ofprocess that is occurring. This information can be used to
bulb (Figure 23.3A). A continuous spectrum contains two imporsupport or refute scientific hypotheses. For example, theoretical
tant pieces of information about radiating bodies.
studies predicted the existence of black holes long before observational evidence existed. The concept of black holes gained considerable support when X-rays matching the wavelengths

predicted by the theory were detected around objects suspected

of being black holes.

TABLE 23.1 Colors and Corresponding Wavelengths


Wavelength (Nanometers*)





Green I








* One nanometer is 10-9 meter.

First, a continuous spectrum provides information about the

total energy output of the radiating body. If the temperature of a

radiating surface increases, the total amount of energy emitted
increases. The rate of increase is stated in the Stefan-Boltzmann
law: The energy radiated by a body is directly proportional to the
fourth power ofits absolute temperature. For example, if the temperature of a star is twice that of another star, the total radiation
emitted by the hotter star is 24 = 2 >< 2 >< 2 >< 2, or 16 times
greater than that of the cooler star.
Second, a continuous spectrum contains information about
the surface temperature of the radiating body. As the surface temperature of an object increases, a larger proportion of its energy
is radiated at shorter wavelengths (higher energy). To illustrate,
imagine a metal rod that is heated slowly. Initially, the rod appears
dull red (longer wavelengths), then yellow, and later bluish-white
(shorter wavelengths). All incandescent bodies show this behavior, so it follows that blue stars are hotter than yellow stars (like the
Sun), which are hotter than red stars (Table 23.1).

The Doppler Effect


Dark-Line Spectrum
If one collects the continuous spectrum from a star and passes
it through an instrument called a spectroscope (which spreads
out the wavelengths in a manner similar to a prism), a series of
dark lines appear. A dark-line or absorption spectrum is produced when white light passes through a comparatively cool
gas at low pressure (Figure 23.3B). The spectrum looks like a continuous spectrum with a series of dark lines (or missing wavelengths). This spectrum contains all the information present in
the continuous spectrum in addition to information about the
composition of matter present and the relative amounts of each
kind of matter.
When visible light is passed through a glass jar containing
hydrogen gas, the hydrogen atoms absorb specific wavelengths
of light, resulting in a unique set of dark lines. Each set of spectral
lines, like a set of fingerprints, identifies the matter present. Elements, such as iron, which exist in the gaseous state on the Sun,
have been identified by studying their spectra. Even organic molecules have been discovered in distant interstellar clouds of dust
and gases using this technique.

The spectra of most stars are of the dark-line type. Imagine

the light produced in the Suns interior passing outward through
its atmosphere. The gas in the solar atmosphere is cooler than
that inside, and when it absorbs some of the sunlight (and reemits it in a random direction) we do not see it, resulting in a dark
spot (line) in the spectrum. Although the lines appear black, they
just look that way next to the bright parts of the spectrum. The
relative intensities of the light in the dark lines contain information about the relative amounts of each kind of matter present.

Bright-Line Spectrum
A bright-line or emission spectrum is produced by hot (incandescent) matter at low pressure (Figure 23.3C). It is a series of bright
lines (a fingerprint for the matter producing them) that appear in
the same locations as the darklines for the same gas. These spectra contain information about the temperature of the gas and the
matter in it.

;=;;I=.. shows the emission spectra of hydrogen

and helium, the two most abundant elements in the universe.

Bright-line or emission spectra are produced by large interstellar clouds (nebula) consisting largely of hydrogen gas excited
by extremely hot stars. Because the brightest emission line pro-

duced by hydrogen is red, these clouds tend to have a red glow

that is characteristic of excited hydrogen gas. The Orion Nebula
is a well-known emission nebula that is bright enough to be seen
by the naked eye
iii).It is located in the constellation
Orion in the sword of the hunter.

CONCEPT cnncx 23.2

Q What is spectroscopy?
Q Describe a continuous spectrum. Give an example of a natural
phenomenon that exhibits a continuous spectrum.
Q What can a continuous spectrum tell astronomers about a
Q What can be learned about a star (or other celestial objects)
from a dark-line (absorption) spectrum?
Q What produces emission lines (bright lines) in a spectrum?





Wavelength (nanometers)



.1 Bright-line spectra of the two most abundant elements
in the universe.

The Doppler Effect

The positions of the bright and dark lines in the spectra described

earlier shift when the source of energy moves relative to the

observer. This effect is observed for all types of waves. You may
have heard the change in pitch of a car horn or ambulance siren
as it passes by. When it is approaching, the sound seems to have
a higher-than-normal pitch, and when it is moving away, the pitch
sotmds lower than normal. This effect was rst explained by Christian Doppler in 1842 and is called the Doppler effect. The reason
for the difference in pitch is that it takes time for the wave to be
emitted. If the source is moving away, the beginning of the wave
is emitted nearer to you than the end, which stretches the wavethat is, gives it a longer wavelength (ii, -; Ii?-._.f:li'). The opposite is
true for an approaching source.
In the case of light, when a source is moving away, its light
appears redder than it actually is because its waves are lengthened. Objects approaching have their light waves shifted toward
the blue (shorter wavelength) end of the spectrum. Thus, if a
source of red light approached you at a very high speed (near
the speed of light), it would actually appear blue. The same
effect is produced if you are moving and the light remains stationary.

The Doppler effect is important because it reveals whether

Earth is approaching or receding from a star or another celestial

body. In addition, the amount of shift allows us to calculate the

rate at which the relative movement is occurring. Large Doppler
shifts indicate high velocities; small Doppler shifts indicate low

velocities. Doppler shifts are generally measured from the dark

lines in the spectra of stars, by comparing them with a standard
spectrum produced in the laboratory


There are two types of Doppler shifts important in astronomy: those caused by local motions and those caused by the
expansion of the universe. Doppler shifts due to local motions
indicate how fast one star orbits another in a binary (two-star)

system and how fast a pulsing star expands and contracts. Those
shifts caused by the expansion of the universe (where space is
continually being created between the galaxies) can tell us how

far away distant objects are. These measurements coupled with

the speed of light tell us how long ago the light left these distant
objects, and as we look farther out, we can get a sense of the age
of the universe.

The Orion Nebula is a well-known emission nebula. Bright enough to be seen by the naked eye,
the Orion Nebula is located in the sword of the hunter in the constellation of the same name. (Courtesy of National
Optical Astronomy Observatories)

the solar system or Milky Way Galaxy), the tools required are relatively simple. But for faint or distant sources as much light as
Q Briey describe the Doppler effect.
possible must be collected, and for the longest amount of time
Q Describe how astronomers determine whether a star is movthat is reasonable. This requires very large instruments with very
ing toward or away from Earth.
sensitive detectors and little to no interference from other sources
of electromagnetic energy.
The earliest tool used to collect light from the heavens was
the human eye. Although early astronomers like Tycho Brahe
were extremely successful using just their eyes, the human eye is
The light emitted from distant sources is collected and analyzed
a poor instrument for astronomical observation (see Chapter 21).
to determine the temperature, composition, relative motion, and
The eye cannot collect much light, is not very sensitive to faint
distance to celestial objects. For nearby objects (bright objects in
colors, collects only visible light, and refreshes itself many times
each second. Early telescopes and photographic
film were vast improvements, allowing for the
.: 1;;i. Ii The Doppler effect, illustrating the apparent lengthening and shortening
collection of large amounts of light over extended
of wavelengths caused by the relative motion between a source and an observer.
periods of time. However, Earths atmosphere is

CONCEPT cnrzcx 23.3

Light Collection

Approaching ambulance

Receding ambulance

Apparent wavelength


-..-'. "". . H-, I,f,-I.='

Apparent wavelength





very turbulent, which turns faint points of light

into very faint smudges, and photographic film

collects only a small amount of all the light that
strikes it.
The largest telescopes were built on mountaintops away from large cities to get above as
much of the turbulent atmosphere as possible,
and to reduce the effects of light pollution. This
solved only part of the problem (i-11?; ;*:r'"-1:1).
Recent developments in electronics have helped
modern earthbound astronomical instruments
(computer-controlled telescopes and electronic

Light Collection
Standard sodium


B. Red-shifted

sodium lines

Large red-shifted
sodium lines


detectors) to get around these limitations. However, even these

instruments are limited to collecting light in the visible or radio
wavelength regions because other wavelengths do not penetrate
Earths atmosphere (see Figure 23.2).
Finally, with the dawn of the space age, even the wavelength
limitations have been overcome. It has become practical to put
astronomical observatories in space, avoiding the turbulent
atmosphere and allowing for the collection of light at all wavelengths. Since the basic principles for detecting radiation were
originally developed for visual observations, we consider optical
telescopes first, followed by radio telescopes, and finally, orbiting observatories.

D. Blue-shifted

sodium lines

:r.".i1;.ir The Doppler effect allows astronomers to determine

whether Earth is approaching or receding from a star or other
celestial body. A. Standard dark-line spectrum for sodium produced in

the laboratory. B. and C. Sodium lines as they would appear when a

light source is receding (red shift). D. Sodium lines produced by an
approaching star (blue shift).



cmtcx 23

0 Why ls the human eye an meffectlve tool for astmnomlcal

6 Provide two reasons why the largest telescopes are built on

mountaintops away from large cities.

Kitt Peak Observatory on a starlit night. (Photo by Bryan Allen/CORBIS)


CHAPTER 23 Light, Astronomical Obseryations, and the Sun

Optical Telescopes
Optical telescopes collect light with visible (or nearly visible)
wavelengths and come in two basic types-rejracting and
reecting telescopes.

Refracting Telescopes
Much like the one used by Galileo, refracting telescopes employ
lenses to collect and focus light
.i.'1). The light coming
from a distant object can be thought of as a ray or beam by the
time it reaches Earth. Our eye, or a telescope lens, intercepts some
portion of the incoming light. To collect more light, one simply
uses a larger lens.

There are two major problems that prevent the manufacture of

large refracting telescopes. First, the lens acts like a prism spreading
out the colors in the light, an effect called chromatic aberration.
This is a problem that grows quickly as lenses get larger. Second,
large lenses weigh so much that they sag under their own weight,
changing their shape, and hence, changing their focusing properties.
The worlds largest refracting telescope is the 1-meter (40inch) telescope at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin
This telescope was successfully used for spectroscopic work (and other work), but it suffers from the problems
described above.

Reflecting Telescopes
Although small refracting telescopes work very well for observations of objects in the solar system and for observing any other
bright source, they have mostly been replaced by reecting telescopes, which use a curved mirror to collect and focus the light.
All large telescopes built today are of the reecting type. Reecting telescopes do not suffer from chromatic aberration because
the light does not travel through glass, but is reected from a
coated surface instead (_'iFigiti't
The mirror is generally made
of glass and finely ground to a nearly perfect paraboloid
A parabola is the geometric shape that takes parallel linesor parallel light raysand focuses them to a point.
The Hale telescope, with a 5-meter mirror, is ground to within a
millionth of a centimeter of being a perfect paraboloid. (If you
have the time and patience, you could grind your own 8-, 10-, or
even 12-inch mirror.) Once ground, the surface of the mirror is
coated with a highly reective material.
Reecting telescopes collect more light as the diameter of the
mirror increases, just like a refracting telescope with larger lenses.

'i1ii'i'ilEti 23.110 The largest refracting telescope, a 1-meter (40-inch)

refractor, located at Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, Wisconsin.
(Photo by Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS)

However, there are difculties in increasing the size of the mirror

beyond several meters. These include supporting such a large
mass, moving that mass to realign the telescope, warping of the
mirror surface under its own weight, and the time required to
grind a near perfect surface over such a large area.
These difficulties have recently been overcome in two ways.
First, by using an array of smaller deformable mirrors under computer control to give the effect of one large mirror (see Box 23.1).
Second, by using a single, very thin mirror mounted on actuators,
and controlling the mirror shape by computer with inputs from an
active optics system. Active optics are a recent development that
corrects for distortions caused by turbulence in the atmosphere

Simple refracting telescope.

Optical Telescopes


i7_~"I.;;.fr-I. Newtons reector telescope. Through experimentation, Newton discovered that a large lens would cause white light to
separate into its constituent parts, causing a halo of colored light to
form around the object being viewed. By designing a telescope that
used a mirror rather than a lens, he avoided this problem altogether.
(Photo by Dave King/Dorling Kindersley Media Library)


and only became practical recently due to the availability of fast,

relatively inexpensive computers.
Larger telescopes not only allow us to collect more light from
faint nearby objects, they also allow us to collect more light from
very distant objects. Since the speed of light is nite (about 300,000
kilometers per second), it takes time for the light to get to us. Even
light from the Sun takes about 8% minutes to reach Earth, and light
from the nearest large galaxy takes 2 million years to reach us. Lit-

Students Sometimes Ask...

Why do astronomers build observatories on
Observatories are most often
located on mountaintops
because sites above the densest
part of the atmosphere provide
better conditions for seeing,
and high mountaintops tend to
be far from urban centers and
their light pollution. At high elevations, there is less air to scatter and dim the incoming light,
and less water vapor to absorb
infrared radiation. Furthermore,
the thin air on mountaintops

causes less distortion of the

images being observed due to
density variations in the air.
(Think of when you have seen
the blurring effect caused by
heat rising off the pavement on
a hot summer day.) For all of
these reasons, the Hubble
Space Telescope is a very
valuable instrument because
it is completely outside the

: ,,-r.
_-; ~~"1


it Reecting telescope. A. Diagram illustrating how

paraboloidal mirrors, like those used in reector telescopes, gather
light. B. Preparation of the 2.4-meter mirror for the Hubble Space
Telescope. (Courtesy of Space Telescope Science Institute)

erally, larger telescopes allow us to look back in time. Our desire

to understand the nature and evolution of the universe has motivated us to develop telescopes that look farther and farther back
in time. Larger telescopes also generally provide better resolution, or clarity

Light Detection
Telescopes simply collect light. They become useful onlywhen the
collected light is detected and analyzed. The earliest detectors were
the astronomers eyes. Astronomers would look through telescopes
and draw what they saw
3i;i5?.'Ii.l). Each persons eyes perceive
light intensity and faint color differently (and each persons drawing talent is not the same), so that under the same seeing conditions, different images of the same object were produced. In
addition, personal biases can easily creep in. For example, in the

early 20th century, noted astronomer Percival Lowell (1855-1916)

was convinced that there were canals on the surface of Mars. Thus,


Percival Lowell believed that life existed on Mars and
drew these canals, inuenced perhaps by his personal biases. (Photo
by Photo Researchers, Inc.)

CONCEPT cmrcrc 23. 5


Appearance of the galaxy in the constellation

Andromeda using telescopes of different resolution. (Courtesy of AURA)

he saw them in his telescope, and drew them in his images. Subsequent studies did not support Lowells observations.
Photographic film was a revolutionary improvement. It is not
impeded by personal biases, it records reasonably accurate relative light intensities, and records faint colors more accurately than
the human eye. However, only about 2 percent of the light that
strikes film is recorded. This means that long exposure times are
required when recording faint images. Furthermore, photographic
lm, like the human eye, is not equally sensitive to all wavelengths.
There are also differences between individual batches or even
between pieces of film that need to be accounted for when making quantitative comparisons.
Advances in semiconductor technology have produced the

charge coupled device (CCD), which takes an electronic photograph and effectively uses the same piece of film over and over
again. (Charged coupled devices are used in digital cameras as
the light-sensing component.) CCD cameras offer a tremendous
improvement over" photographic film for detection of visible and
near visible light. They typically detect 70 percent, or more, of all
incoming light and are easily calibrated for variations in wavelength sensitivity. Using CCD cameras, astronomers can collect
light from distant objects for hours, as long as the telescope is
accurately steered. Light can also be collected over several nights
and added together to make a single image.

Q What is the major difference between reecting and refracting telescopes?

Q Vllhy do astronomers seek to design telescopes with larger and
larger mirrors?
Q Why do all large optical telescopes use mirrors to collect light
rather than lenses?
Q Explain the following statement: Photography has extended
the limits of our vision.
Q What are the advantages of charge coupled devices (CCD) over
photographic film?

Radio- and Space-Based

Sunlight consists of more than the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet radiation,
infrared radiation, and radio waves are also produced by stars
and other celestial objects. CCD cameras that are sensitive to
ultraviolet and infrared radiation have been developed, thereby
extending the limits of our vision. However, much of the radia-

tion produced by celestial objects cannot penetrate our atmosphere or is not detectable by optical telescopes. As a result,
astronomers have developed other observational techniques covering the remaining portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Radio Telescopes
Of great importance is a narrow band of radio waves that does
penetrate the atmosphere (see Figure 23.2). One particular wavelength is the 21-centimeter line produced by neutral hydrogen
(hydrogen atoms that still hold their electron). Measurement of

Radio- and Space-Based Astronomy


Box 23.1 I

.1-_I-v. a. _ .] .,_f,_ , I-2-=-_- 1-f_,'
lIr_l-_'l I
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,_-'. .-.-." .m_._ | ,-_._-. .|-, I- e-=_'- .,. .~_;_,
l.~"-' 1'"
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_: a;._|I_;
rnu _.--_ - e_.-_._
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M..;_' (H-1":7';f--I __,__.



The Worlds Largest

Optical Telescopes
The main purpose of a telescope is to collect
as much light as possible. The larger the
telescopes lens or mirror, the more light it
collects, allowing for viewing of fainter
objects. Because an important objective of
astronomy involves observing extremely distant and hence very faint cosmic sources,
large telescopes are essential.
Until recently, the largest telescopes were
limited to mirrors about 5 meters (200 inches)
in diameter because the task of casting, cooling, and polishing large glass mirrors to very
fine tolerances (less than the thickness of a
human hair) was enormously time-consuming
and expensive. For example, the construction
of the 5-meter mirror for the Hale Telescope
on Mount Palomar, California, began in 1934
and was not completed until 1948. However,
during the last decade, with the aid of hightech manufacturing techniques, several largediameter telescopes have been built, and
several more are being planned.
The worlds largest telescope is the Gran
Telescopio Canarias located in La Palma,
Canary Islands, Spain, which boasts a 10.4meter mirror composed of 36 1.8-meter segments that are positioned by computer.
Nearly equal in size and of the same design
are the Keck I and Keck II, which are located
on Hawaiis Mauna Kea at an altitude of

nearly 4,200 meters (13,800 feet). These 10rneter telescopes are capable of working
independently or in tandem (Figure 23.A).
One of the largest optical telescopes, in
terms of total light-gathering capability, is the
European Southern Observatorys Very Large
Telescope (VLT), located at Cerro Paranal,
Chile. It consists of four separate 8.2-meter
instruments that work independently, or in
conjunction with one another. When working
in tandem, these telescopes have 10 times
the light-gathering capacity of the 5-meter
Hale Telescope and therefore can "see" cosmic objects that are 10 times dimmer.

Several other large optical telescopes are

under construction or in the planning
stages. A United States-KoreaAustralia
consortium is developing a 24.5-meter (80foot) instrument called the Giant Magellan
Telescope. In addition, the consortium participating in the European Southern Observatory has approved funding for a telescope
that boasts a 42-meter (138-foot) composite
mirror. If these plans come to fruition, this
new instrument will be over 100 times more
powerful than the most powerful telescopes
currently operational.

FIGURE 23.A Mirror of the 10-meter Keck Telescope. The mirror was constructed
fIOIl'l 36 hexagonal segments. (Photo by Roger Ressrneyer/CORBIS)


\ 2




- -


this radiation has permitted us to map the galactic distribution

of hydrogen, the material from which stars are made.
The detection of radio waves is accomplished by big dishes
called radio telescopes ("%i.r'1irr.':"2
In principle, the dish of
a radio telescope operates in the same manner as the mirror of
an optical telescope. It is parabolic in shape and focuses the
incoming radio waves on an antenna, which collects and transmits these waves to an amplifier.
Because radio waves are about 100,000 times longer than visible radiation, the surface of a dish need not be as smooth as a
mirror. In fact, except for the shortest radio waves, wire mesh is an
adequate reector. On the other hand, because radio signals from
celestial sources are very weak, large dishes are necessary in order
to intercept a signal that is strong enough to be detected. The
largest radio telescope is a bowl-shaped antenna hung in a natural
depression in Puerto Rico
.?I:ii:i.ji'.i.i). It is 300 meters (1,000
feet) in diameter and has some directional exibility because of
its movable antenna. The largest steerable types have about 100-

' |Iat

meter (330-foot) dishes. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, provides an example
(Figure 23.15A).

Radio telescopes have relatively poor resolution, making it

difficult to pinpoint the radio source. Pairs or groups oftelescopes
are used to reduce this problem. When several radio telescopes
are wired together, the resulting network is called a radio interferometer (Figure 23.15B).

Orbiting Observatories
Orbiting observatories circumvent all of the problems caused by
Earths atmosphere and have led to many significant discoveries
in astronomy. NASAs series of Four Great Observatories provide a good illustration.
The Hubble Space Telescope Launched in 1990, the Hubble
Space Telescope (HST) is an optical reecting telescope in orbit
around Earth (i.=I.'it.t.i:=ir
Its images are not distorted by the


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A. The 100-meter (330-foot) steerable radio telescope at Green Bank, West Virginia. The dish acts like the mirror of a reectortype optical telescope to focus radio waves onto the detector. (Photo by National Radio Astronomy Observatory) B. Twenty-seven identical radio
telescopes operate together to form the Very Large Array near Socorro, New Mexico. (Photo by Science Faction/Superstock)

atmosphere and there is no atmospherically scattered light to

drown out faint sources of light. In addition, it can collect ultraviolet light that is absorbed by Earths ozone layer and thus,
unavailable to ground-based telescopes. Hubble must be considered to be one of the most important instrurrrents in the history
of astronomy because ofthe large number of discoveries that have
been made from its images. The 2.4-meter mirror has produced
images with a sensitivity and resolution that are only now being
matched by much larger (10-meter) ground-based telescopes.

Here are just a few of the many discoveries made with Hubble.
HST provided visual proof that pancake-shaped disks of dust are
common around young stars, providing support for the Nebular
Hypothesis ofsolar system formation. Hubble provided decisive evidence that super massive black holes reside in the center of many
galaxies by imaging the movements of dust and gas in the interiors
of galaxies. The HST has also allowed us to look farther out into the
universe (and farther back in time) than ever before, while producing the most elusive astronomical image ever taken, the Ultra Deep
lliIr'{-? ii).
This image was acquired by looking at a patch

i ,-i;1.t.'.i..'; The 300-meter (1,000-foot) radio telescope at Arecibo,

Puerto RICO. (Courtesy of National Astronomy and ionosphere Center's Arecibo
Observatory, operated by Cornell University under contract with the National Science

The deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope in

Earth orbit, April 24, 1990, from Space Shuttle Discovery. (Courtesy of

-='}i-I-"lf1' iii
As we probe deep into space, we are really looking
back in time. Due to NASA's orbiting observatories, we have the
deepest, most detailed views of extragalactic space yet obtained. This
image, called the Hubble Deep Field, was taken of what appears to be
an "empty" part of the sky located near the Big Dipper. The colors are
approximately what the human eye would see. What the image shows
are numerous young galaxies and protogalaxies (faint smudges of blue
light) that gave rise to galaxies that exist today. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

151- Chandra X-Rel? Observatory captured this image of a

supernova remnantscattered glowing debris ejected from a massive
star. This feature, barely visible in the optical part of the spectrum, is
awash in brilliantly glowing gases emitting X-rays. (NASA)

the universe, reinforcing the estimated age of 12-14 billion years.

The CXO has shown what galaxies were like when the universe

was only a few billion years old.

of empty sky for a total of 1 million seconds with the faintest objects
putting only one photon per minute into the exposure.
The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory Designed to collect
data on some ofthe most violent physical processes in the rmiverse,
the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (CGRO) was launched in
1991. It had a sensitivity 10 times greater than any previous gamma
ray instrument and collected an incredible range of high-energy
radiation. One of the main scientic discoveries made by CGRO
was the uniform distribution of gamma ray bursts, which suggest
that they are common events associated with ordinary objects.
Gamma ray bursts are ashes of gamma rays that come from
seemingly random places deep in the universe at random times.
They are probably the most luminous, and therefore, the most
energetic events occurring in the universe since the Big Bang. It is

quite likely that many of them are caused by rapidly rotating massive stars as they collapse to form black holes (see Chapter 24).

The Chandra X-Ray Observatory The Chandra X-Ray Observatory (CXO), launched in 1999, was designed to observe objects
such as black holes, quasars, and high-temperature gases at
X-ray wavelengths to better understand the structure and evolution of the universe. With a resolution 25 times greater than any
other X-ray observatory, it only uses as much power as an ordinary
hair dryer
The CXO has observed a black hole
pulling in matter, and two black holes merging into one. In addi-

The Spitzer Space Telescope Launched in 2003, the Spitzer

Space Telescope (SST) was designed to collect infrared (heat)
energy that is mostly blocked by Earths atmosphere. Its instruments must be cooled to near zero Kelvin so that heat from nearby
objects (and the satellite itself) do not interfere with the measurements. The telescope is actually in an orbit around the Sun to
keep it away from the thermal energy radiated by Earth, and it is
outfitted with a shield to deect solar radiation.
Spitzers highly sensitive instruments give us unique views of
the universe and allow us to peer into regions of space that are
hidden from optical telescopes by vast, dense clouds of gas and
dust (nebula). Fortunately, infrared light can pass through these
clouds, allowing us to peer into regions of star formation, the centers of galaxies, and into newly forming planetary systems. Infrared
light also brings us information about cool celestial objects, such
as small stars that are too dim to be detected at visible wavelengths,
planets that lay outside our solar system, and molecular clouds.

CONCEPT cmazcx 23.6

Q Why are radio telescopes much larger than optical telescopes?
Q What are some of the advantages of radio telescopes over optical telescopes?
Q Explain why the Moon would make a good site for an optical
Q What can astronomers learn about the universe by studying it
at multiple wavelengths?

tion, it has provided an independent measurement of the age of


.FlGllRE 123.20 The Sun is

the source of more than 99
percent of all energy on
Earth. (Photo by Jerry and Marcy
Monkman/Danita Delimont)

The Sun is one ofthe 200 billion stars that make up the Milky Way
Galaxy. Although the Sun is oflittle signicance to the universe as
a whole, to those of us who inhabit Earth it is the primary source
of energy. Everything from the food we eat to the fossil fuels we
burn in our automobiles and power plants is ultimately derived
from solar energy (Figure 23.20). The Sun is also important in
astronomy, since it is the only star close enough to permit easy
study of its surface. Even with the largest telescopes, most other
stars appear only as points of light.

Because the Sun is so bright and emits eye-damaging radiation, it is not safe to observe it directly. However, it can be studied
safely when a telescope is used to project the Suns image on a
piece of cardboard placed behind the telescopes eyepiece. This
basic method is used by several telescopes around the world,
which keep a constant vigil of the Sun. One of the nest is at the
Kitt Peak National Observatory in southern Arizona (Fig are .23. 21).
It consists of a 150-meter sloped enclosure that directs sunlight to
a mirror situated below ground. From the mirror, an 85-centimeter (33-inch) image of the Sun is projected to an observing room,
where it is studied.

The unique Robert J. McMath Solar Telescope at Kitt Peak, near Tucson, Arizona. Movable mirrors at
the top follow the Sun, reecting its light down the sloping tunnel. (Photo by Kent Wood/Photo Researchers, Inc.) Inset photo
shows a view of the solar disk obtained by a solar telescope. (Photo by European Space Agency)

Q -is. .

Structure of the Sun


.? If


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Because the Sun is

gaseous throughout, no sharp

boundaries exist between these layers. The Suns interior makes up all
but a tiny fraction of the solar mass,
and unlike the outer three layers, it is
not accessible to direct observation.
We discuss the visible layers first.



, ..


The photosphere (photos = light,

sphere = ball) is aptly named because

- Cole
I l
it radiates most ofthe sunlight we see
and therefore appears as the bright
disk of the Sun. Although it is considered
to be the Suns surface, it is
unlike most surfaces to which we are
Sunspots -' 5.
accustomed. The photosphere conPromrnence
sists of a layer of incandescent gas
less than 500 kilometers (300 miles)
thick, having a pressure less than
I. 1/100 of our atmosphere. FurtherChromosphere
more, it is neither smooth nor uniformly bright, as the ancients had
imagined. It has numerous blemishes.
When viewed telescopically, the
photospheres grainy texture is apparent. This is the result of numerous
comparatively small, bright markings
called granules (granuurn = small
i1;tt'.tti;r"i.iii it 12:2: Diagram of solar structure in cutaway view. Earth is shown for scale.
grain that are surrounded by narrow,
dark regions (litigate
are typically the size of Texas, and
owe their brightness to hotter gases that are rising from below. As
Compared to other stars of the universe, many of which are
gas spreads laterally, cooling causes it to darken and sink back
larger, smaller, hotter, cooler, more red, or more blue, the Sun is
the interior. Each granule survives for only 10-20 minutes,
an average star." However, on the scale of our solar system, it is
the combined motion of old granules being replaced by
truly gigantic, having a diameter equal to 109 Earth diameters
gives the photosphere the appearance of boiling. This
(1.35 million kilometers) and a volume of 1.25 million times as
great as that of Earth. Yet, because of its gaseous nature, the density is only one-quarter that of Earth, a little greater than the denii*;.'ti.-S-il?i1t.t*iI
Granules of the solar photosphere. Granules appear
sity of water.
as yellowish-orange patches. Each granule is about the size of Texas



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and lasts for only 10-20 minutes before being replaced by a new
granule. (Courtesy of National Optical Astronomy Observatories)

CONCEPT crrscx 23.7

Q Why is the Sun so important to inhabitants of Earth?
Q Why is the Sun significant to the study of astronomy?
Q Describe the Sun in relationship to other stars in the universe.




Structure of the Sun



For convenience of discussion, we divide the Sun into four parts:

the solar interior; the visible surface, or photosphere; and the two
layers of its atmosphere, the chrornosphere and the corona





CHAPTER 23 Light, Astronomical Observations, and the Sun

Students Sometimes Ask...

If the Sun is an enormous ball of hot gas, how can it have
a surface?
That's a good observation.
Actually, the visible surface of
the Sun, the photosphere, is a
layer of gas about 500 kilometers (300 miles) thick. It is from
this layer that we receive the
most sunlight. Although more
light is emitted from the layer
below the photosphere, that
light is absorbed in the overlying layers of gas. Above the

photosphere, the gas is much

less dense and does not radiate
much light. The photosphere is
the layer that is dense enough
to emit ample light yet has a
density low enough to allow
light to escape. Since the photosphere emits most of the light
we see, it appears as the outermost surface of the Sun.

up-and-down movement of gas, called convection, produces the

grainy appearance of the photosphere and is responsible for the
transfer of energy in the uppermost part of the Suns interior
(Figure 23.22).

The composition of the photosphere has been determined

from the dark lines of its absorption spectrum (see Figure 23.3).
Vifhen these fingerprints are compared to the spectra of known
elements, they indicate that most of the elements found on Earth
also exist on the Sun. When the strengths of the absorption lines
are analyzed, the relative abundance of the elements can be determined. These studies show that 90 percent of the Suns surface
atoms are hydrogen and almost 10 percent are helium. That leaves
only minor amounts ofthe other detectable elements. Other stars
also show similar disproportionate percentages of these two lightest elements, a fact we consider later.

lust above the photosphere lies the chromosphere (color sphere),
a relatively thin layer of hot, incandescent gases a few thousand
kilometers thick. The chromosphere is observable for a few
moments during a total solar eclipse, or by using a special instrument that blocks out the light from the photosphere. Under such
conditions, it appears as a thin red rim around the Sun. Because
the chromosphere consists of hot, incandescent gases under low
pressure, it produces a bright-line spectrum that is nearly the
reverse of the dark-line spectrum of the photosphere. One of the
bright lines of hydrogen contributes a good portion of its total
output and accounts for this spheres red color.
In 1868, a study of the chromospheric spectrum revealed the
existence of an element unknown on Earth. It was named helium,
from helios, the Greek word for Sun. Originally, helium was
thought to be an element unique to the stars, but 27 years later it
was discovered in a natural-gas well on Earth.
The top of the chromosphere contains numerous spicules
(spice = point), amelike structures that extend upward about
10,000 kilometers into the lower corona, almost like trees that
reach into our atmosphere
:,1;g:.i1ef...=?:2). Spicules are produced
by the turbulent motion of the granules below.

fi.?.i;i7. 1,:i>;.t-e Spicules of the chromosphere on the edge of the solar

CliSk. (National Solar Observatory/Sacramento Peak)

The outermost portion of the solar atmosphere, the corona
(corona = crown) is very tenuous and, like the chromosphere,
is visible only when the brilliant photosphere is blocked
This envelope ofionized gases normally extends a
million kilometers or so from the Sun and produces a glow about
half as bright as the full Moon.
At the outer fringe of the corona, the ionized gases have
speeds great enough to escape the gravitational pull of the Sun.
The streams of protons and electrons that boil from the corona
constitute the solar wind. The solar wind travels outward through
the solar system at high speeds (250-800 kilometers a second)
and much of it is lost to interstellar space. During its journey, the
solar wind interacts with the bodies of the solar system, continually bombarding lunar rocks and altering their appearance.
Although Earths magnetic field prevents the solar winds from
reaching the surface, these streams of charged particles interact
with gases in our atmospherea topic we will discuss later.
Studies of the energy emitted from the photosphere indicate
that its temperature averages about 6,000 K (l0,000 F). Upward
from the photosphere, the temperature unexpectedly increases,
Solar corona photographed during a total eclipse.
(Photo by Jerry Lodriguss/Photo Researchers, Inc.)



exceeding 1 million K at the top of the corona. It should be

noted that although the coronal temperature exceeds that
of the photosphere by many times, it radiates much less
energy overall because of its very low density.
Surprisingly, the high temperature of the corona is
probably caused by sound waves generated by the convective motion of the photosphere. lust as boiling water
makes noise, energetic sound waves generated in the photosphere are believed to be absorbed by the gases of the

corona, thereby increasing its temperature.


0 Describe the photosphere, chromosphere, and corona.
Q Why are there no distinct boundaries between the layers of the Sun?
Q Why is the photosphere considered the Sun's surface"?
Q Briefly describe the solar wind.

The Active Sun

Most of the Suns energy that reaches Earth is the result of a rather
steady, continuous emission from the photosphere. In addition to
this predictable aspect of our Suns energy output is a much more
irregular component, characterized by explosive surface activity
that includes sun spots, prominences, and solarares.

The most conspicuous features on the surface of the Sun are the
dark blemishes called sunspots
mar f-tile:
Although large
sunspots were occasionally observed before the advent ofthe telescope, they were generally regarded as opaque objects located
somewhere between the Sun and Earth. In 1610 Galileo concluded
that they were residents ofthe solar surface, and from their motion
he deduced that the Sun rotates on its axis about once a month.
Later observations indicated that the time required for one rotation varied by latitude. The Suns equator rotates once in 25 days,

whereas a place located '70 degrees from the solar equator, either
north or south, requires 33 days for one rotation. If Earth rotated
in a similar disjointed manner, imagine the consequences! The

Suns nonuniform rotation is a testimonial to its gaseous nature.

Sunspots begin as small, dark pores about 1,600 kilometers
(1,000 miles) in diameter. Although most sunspots last for only
a few hours, some grow into blemishes many times larger than

Earth and last for a month or more. The largest sunspots often
occur in pairs surrounded by several smaller sunspots. An individual spot contains a black center, the umbm (umbra :
shadow), which is rimmed by a lighter region, the penumbra
(paene = almost, umbra = shadow) (Figure 23.26B). Sunspots
appear dark only by contrast with the brilliant photosphere, a fact
accounted for by their temperature, which is about 1,500 K less
than that of the solar surface. If these dark spots could be observed
away from the Sun, they would appear many times brighter than
the full moon.


- _-:'

Sunspots. A.
Large sunspot group on the
solar disk. (Celestron 8 photo
courtesy of Celestron

International) B. Sunspots
having visible umbra (dark
central area) and penumbra
(lighter area surrounding
umbra). (Courtesy of National
Optical Astronomy Observatories)


During the early 19th century, it was believed that a tiny planet
named Vulcan orbited between Mercury and the Sun. In the
search for Vulcan an accurate record of sunspot occurrences was
kept. Although the planet was never found, the sunspot data
showed that the number of sunspots on the solar disk varies in
an 1 1-year cycle.
First, the number of sunspots increases to a maximum, with
perhaps a hundred or more visible at a given time. Then, over a
period of 5-'7 years, their numbers decline to a minimum, when
only a few or even none are visible. At the beginning of each cycle,
the first sunspots form about 30 degrees from the solar equator,
but as the cycle progresses and their numbers increase, they form
nearer the equator. During the period when sunspots are most
abundant, the majority form about 15 degrees from the equator.
They rarely occur more than 40 degrees away from the Suns equator, or within 5 degrees of it.
Another interesting characteristic of sunspots was discovered
by astronomer George Hale, for whom the Hale Telescope is
named. Hale deduced that the large spots are strongly magnetized,
and when they occur in pairs, they have opposite magnetic poles.
For instance, if one member of the pair is a north magnetic pole,
then the other member is a south magnetic pole. Also, every pair
located in the same hemisphere is magnetized in the same manner.
However, all pairs in the other hemisphere are magnetized in the
opposite manner. At the beginning of each sunspot cycle, the situ681


CHAPTER 23 Light, Astronomical Observations, and the Sun

ation reverses, and the polarity of these sunspot pairs is opposite

those of the previous cycle. The cause of this change in polarityin fact, the cause of sunspots themselvesis not fully tmderstood.
However, other modes ofsolar activityvary in the same cyclic manner as sunspots, indicating the likelihood of a common origin.

Among the more spectacular features of the active Sun are
prominences (prominere = to jut out). These huge cloudlike
structures, consisting of concentrations of chromospheric gases,
are best observed when they are on the edge, or limb, of the Sun,
where they often appear as bright arches that extend well into the
corona (Figure ;23.2:?'). Quiescent prominences have the appearance of a fine tapestry and seem to hang motionless for days at a
time, but motion pictures reveal that the material within them is
continually falling like luminescent rain.
By contrast, eruptive prominences rise almost explosively away
from the Sun. These active prominences reach velocities up to
1,000 kilometers (620 miles) per second and may leave the Sun
entirely. Whether eruptive or quiescent, prominences are ionized
chromospheric gases trapped by magnetic fields that extend from
regions of intense solar activity.

Solar Flares
Solar ares are brief outbursts that normally last an hour or so
and appear as a sudden brightening ofthe region above a sunspot
cluster. During their existence, enormous quantities of energy are
FIG-UiiE 23.2? A huge solar prominence. (SOHO/ESA/NASAfPhoto
Researchers, inc.)

released across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, much of it

in the form of ultraviolet, radio, and X-ray radiation. Simultaneously, fast-moving atomic particles are ejected, causing the solar
wind to intensify noticeably. Although a major are could conceivably endanger a manned space ight, these are relatively rare
events. Within hours after a large outburst, the ejected particles
reach Earth and disturb the ionosphere, affecting long-distance
radio communications.
The most spectacular effects of solar ares are the auroras,
also called the Northern and Southern lights (irigirre ::<s.:ra). Following a strong solar are, Earths upper atmosphere above the
magnetic poles is set aglow for several nights. The auroras appear
in a wide variety of forms. Sometimes the display consists ofvertical streamers with considerable movement. At other times, the
auroras appear as a series of luminous, expanding arcs or as a
quiet, almost foglike, glow. Auroral displays, like other solar activities, vary in intensity with the 11-year sunspot cycle.

CONCEPT cm-:c1< 23.9

Q That did Galileo learn about the Sun from his observations
of sunspots?
Q Briey describe the 1 1-year sunspot cycle.
Q What are prominences?
Q How do solar ares affect the solar wind?

The Solar Interior

The interior of the Sun cannot be observed directly. For that reason, what we know about it is based on information acquired from
the energy radiated from the photosphere and solar atmosphere
and from theoretical studies.
The source ofthe Suns energy, nuclear fusion (fusus = to melt),
was not discovered until the late 1930s. Deep in its interior, a nuclear
reaction called the proton-proton chain reaction converts four
hydrogen nuclei (protons) into the nucleus of a helium atom. The
energy released from the protonproton reaction results because
some ofthe matter involved is actually converted to radiant energy.
This can be illustrated by noting that four hydrogen atoms have a
combined atomic mass of 4.032 (4 X 1.008), whereas the atomic
mass ofhelium is 4.003, or 0.029 less than the combined mass ofthe
hydrogen. The tiny missing mass is emitted as energy according to
Einsteins formula E = mag where E equals energy, rn equals mass,
and c equals the speed of light. Because the speed of light is very
great, the amount of energy released from even a small amount of
mass is enormous.
The conversion of just one pinheads worth of hydrogen to
helium generates more energy than burning thousands oftons of
coal. (This process is often referred to as hydrogen burning, but
it is nothing like the type ofburning to which we are accustomed.)
Most ofthis energy is in the form ofvery high-energy photons that
work their way toward the solar surface, being absorbed and reemitted many times until they reach an opaque layer just below
the photosphere. Here, convection currents serve to transport this
energy to the solar surface, where it radiates through the nearly
57The ionosphere is a complex atmospheric zone of ionized gases extending between about
80 and 400 kilometers (50 and 250 miles) above Earth's surface.

The Solar Interior

I#;"iEi.;r.:: Aurora borealis (Northern lights) as seen from Alaska.
The same phenomenon occurs toward the South Pole, where it is
called the Aurora australis (Southern lights). (Photo by Daniel Cox!

transparent chromosphere and corona as mostly visible light (see

Figure 23.22).

Only a small percentage (0.7%) of the hydrogen in the proton-proton reaction is actually converted to energy. Nevertheless, the Sun is consuming an estimated 600 million. tons of
hydrogen each second, with about 4 million tons of it being converted to energy. The by-product of hydrogen burning is helium,
which forms the solar core. Consequently, the core continually
grows in size.


How long can the Sun produce energy at its present rate before
all of its fuel (hydrogen) is consumed? Even at the enormous rate
of consumption, the Sun has enough fuel to easily last another
100 billion years. However, evidence from other stars indicates
that the Sun will grow dramatically and engulf Earth long before
all of its hydrogen is gone. It is likely that a star the size of the Sun
can remain in a stable state for about 10 billion years. Since the
Sun is already 5 billion years old, it is middle-aged.
To initiate the proton-proton reaction, the Sun's internal temperature must have reached several million degrees. What was
the source of this heat? As previously noted, the solar system
formed from an enormous cloud of dust and gases (mostly hydrogen) that gravitationally collapsed. When a gas is squeezed (compressed) its temperature increases. Although all of the bodies in
the solar system were heated in this manner, the Sun was the only
one, because of its mass, that became hot enough to trigger the
proton-proton reaction. Astronomers currently estimate its internal temperature at 15 million K.
The planet Iupiter is basically a hydrogen-rich gas ball. Why
didnt it become a star? Although it is a huge planet, the lowest
mass stars are between 75 and 80 times the size of Iupiter.

CONCEPT cnscrc 2 3. 1 O

a Whatis the Source ofthe Sun,S energy?

Q What "fuel" does the Sun consume?
What haPP ens to the matter that is consumed in the

pmt0n_pmt0n Chain reaction?


1. Refer to Figure 23.2 to answer the following questions.
a. Is the atmosphere mostly transparent or opaque to visible light?
b. Is the atmosphere mostly transparent or opaque to radio waves with a wavelength of 1 meter?
c. Is the atmosphere mostly transparent or opaque to gamma rays?
2. Imagine that the composition of Earths atmosphere was altered so that its ability to absorb visible
and far infrared light was reversed.
a. If you were outdoors when the Sun was at its highest point in the sky, how would the sky appear?
b. Would there be an increase or decrease in Earths average surface temperature?
3. Suppose a well-known scientist claimed that stars consist primarily of helium rather than hydrogen.
a. What type of object in the galaxy could you study to investigate whether stars consist primarily
of helium or hydrogen?
b. How could spectroscopy help you verify or disprove the scientists claim? Explain your reasoning.
4. Imagine that you are responsible for funding the construction of observatories. After considering
the four proposals listed below, state whether you would or would not recommend funding for
each proposal and explain your reasoning.
Proposal A: A ground-based X-ray telescope on the top of a mountain in Arizona designed to
observe supernovae in distant galaxies.
Proposal B: A space-based 3-meter reecting infrared telescope designed to observe very distant
Proposal C: A ground-based 8-meter refracting optical telescope located on the top of Manna Kea
in Hawaii designed to measure the spectra of binary stars in our galaxy.
Proposal D: A ground-based 250-meter radio telescope array in New Mexico designed to measure
the distribution of hydrogen gas clouds in the disk of our galaxy.


CHAPTER 23 Light, Astronomical Observations, and the Sun

An important absorption line in the spectrum of stars occurs at a wavelength of 656 nm for stars not
moving toward or away from Earth. Imagine that you observe four stars in our galaxy and discover
that this absorption line is at the wavelength shown in the accompanying diagram. Using
this data, complete the following questions. Explain the reasoning behind your answers. If
you are unable to determine the answer to any of these questions from the given informaI

tion, explain.
a. Which of these stars is moving the fastest toward Earth?
b. Which of these stars is closest to Earth?
c. Vllhich of these stars is moving away from Earth?
Consider the following discussion among three of your classmates regarding why telescopes are put in space. Support or refute each statement.
Student # 1: "I think it is because the atmosphere distorts and magnifies light,
which causes objects to look larger than they actually are.
Student #2: I thought it was because some of the wavelengths of light being sent
Star A
out from the telescopes can be blocked by Earth's atmosphere so the telescopes
need to be above the atmosphere.
Student #3: Wait, I thought it was because by moving the telescope above the
gm. 5
atmosphere the telescope is closer to the objects, which makes them appear
Star C
Refer to the accompanying spectra which represent four identical stars in our galaxy.
One star is not moving, another is moving away from you, and two stars are moving
toward you. Determine which star is which and explain how you reached your
Star 0

Wavelength of Absorption Line

649 om
656 nm
658 nm
647 nm

In Review Chapter 23 Light, Astronomical Observations, and the Sun

Visible light constitutes only a small part of an array of
energy, generally referred to as electromagnetic radiation.
Light, a type of electromagnetic radiation, can be described in
two ways: ( 1) as waves and (2) as a stream of particles, called
photons. The wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation vary
from several kilometers for radio waves to less than a billionth
of a centimeter for gamma rays. The shorter wavelengths correspond to more energetic photons.
Spectroscopy is the study of the properties of light that depend
on wavelength. When a prism is used to disperse visible light
into its component parts (wavelengths), one of three possible
types of spectra is produced (a spectrum, the singular form of
spectra, is the light pattern produced by passing light through
a prism). The three types of spectra are (1) continuous spectrum, (2) darlc-line (absorption) spectrum, and (3) bright-line
(emission) spectrum. The spectra of most stars are of the darkline type. Spectroscopy can be used to determine (1) the
composition of stars and other gaseous objects, (2) the temperature of a radiating body, and (3) the motion of an object.
Motion (direction toward or away and velocity) is determined
using the Doppler eectthe apparent change in the wavelength of radiation emitted by an object caused by the relative
motions of the source and the observer.
There are two types of optical telescopes: (1) the refracting
telescope, which uses a lens to bend or refract light, and (2)
the reecting telescope, which uses a concave mirror to focus
(gather) the light.
Telescopes simply collect light. They become useful when the
collected light is detected and analyzed. Historically,

astronomers relied on their eyes as detectors. Then, photographic film was developed, which was a revolutionary
advancement. Presently, light is collected using a charged
coupled device (CCD). A CCD camera produces a digital
image akin to that of a digital camera.
The detection of radio waves is accomplished by big dishes
known as radio telescopes. A parabolic-shaped dish, often
consisting of wire mesh, operates in a manner similar to the
mirror of a reecting telescope. Of great importance is a narrow band of radio waves that is able to penetrate Earth's
atmosphere. Because this radiation is produced by neutral
hydrogen, it has permitted us to map the galactic distribution
of the material from which stars are made.
The Sun is one of the 200 billion stars that make up the Milky
Way Galaxy. The Sun can be divided into four parts: (1) the
solar interior, (2) the photosphere (visible surface) and the
two layers of its atmosphere, (3) the cliromosphere, and (4)
corona. The photosphere radiates most of the light we see.
Unlike most surfaces, it consists of a layer of incandescent gas
less than 500 kilometers (300 miles) thick, with a grainy texture consisting of numerous relatively small, bright markings
called granules. Just above the photosphere lies the chromosphere, a relatively thin layer of hot, incandescent gases a few
thousand kilometers thick. At the edge of the uppermost portion of the solar atmosphere, called the corona, ionized gases
escape the gravitational pull of the Sun and stream toward
Earth at high speeds, producing the solar wind.
Numerous features have been identified on the active Sun.
Sunspots are dark blemishes with a black center, the umbra,

which is rimmed by a lighter region, the penumbra. The number of sunspots observable on the solar disk varies in an 11year cycle. Prominences, huge cloudlike structures best
observed when they are on the edge, or limb, of the Sun, are
produced by ionized chromospheric gases trapped by magnetic fields that extend from regions of intense solar activity.
The most explosive events associated with sunspots are solar
ares. Flares are brief outbursts that release enormous quantities of energy that appear as a sudden brightening of the
region above sunspot clusters. During the event, radiation
and fast-moving atomic particles are ejected, causing the
solar wind to intensify. When the ejected particles reach

Mastering Geology


Earth and disturb the ionosphere, radio communication is

disrupted and the auroras, also called the Northern and
Southern lights, occur.
The source of the Suns energy is nuclearfusion. Deep in the
solar interior, at a temperature of 15 million K, a nuclear reaction called the proton proton chain converts four hydrogen
nuclei (protons) into the nucleus of a helium atom. During
the reaction some of the matter is converted to the energy of
the Sun. A star the size of the Sun can exist in its present stable state for l0 billion years. As the Sun is already 5 billion
years old, it is a middle-aged" star.

Key Terms
absorption spectrum (p. 669)
aurora (p. 682)
bright-line (emission) spectrum (p. 669)
chromatic aberration (p. 672)
chromosphere (p. 680)
continuous spectrum (p. 668)
corona (p. 680)
dark-line (absorption) spectrum (p. 669)
Doppler effect (p. 669)
electromagnetic radiation (p. 666)

emission spectrum (p. 669)

granules (p. 679)
nuclear fusion (p. 682)
photon (p. 666)
photosphere (p. 679)
prominence (p. 682)
proton-proton chain reaction (p. 682)
radiation pressure (p. 666)
radio interferometer (p. 675)

radio telescope (p. 675)

reecting telescope (p. 672)
refracting telescope (p. 672)
solar are (p. 682)
solar wind (p. 680)
spectroscope (p. 669)
spectroscopy (p. 668)
spicule (p. 680)
sunspot (p. 681)

Examining the Earth System

1. Of the two sources of energy that power the Earth system, the
Sun is the main driver of Earths external processes. If the Sun
increased its energy output by 10 percent, what would happen to global temperatures? What effect would this temperature change have on the percentage of water that exists as
ice? What would be the impact on the position of the ocean

shoreline? Speculate as to whether the change in temperature might produce an increase or decrease in the amount of
surface vegetation. In turn, what impact might this change in
vegetation have on the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide?
How would such a change in the amount of carbon dioxide in
the atmosphere affect global temperatures?

Mastering Geology



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