CARLOS CLARIVAN / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY CARLOS CLARIVAN / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Diagram showing the absorption and emission spectra of the elements hydrogen and helium. When electrons in an element become excited, for example by being heated, they enter higher energy orbits. When they return to their ground state they release the extra energy as light radiation at a specific wavelength. The wavelengths emitted by an element are characteristic of that element. The dark lines within the absorption spectra show at what wavelengths light that passes through an element (when in its ground state) will be absorbed. As can be seen, the emission and absorption lines match.
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