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Imagine the Universe: Spectral Analysis Activities

Imagine the Universe: Spectral Analysis Activities

Spectral Analysis Activities

Shirley J. Burris
Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, Canada

These activities were designed to aid student understanding of spectral analysis, what the patterns mean, how elements are involved, and how this relates to stars. Traditionally, spectral images are two dimensional, and related to text. The auditory activity allows students to "hear" differences in patterns of various elements. The kinesthetic activity encourages students to use their bodies to "make" patterns.

These activities are appropriate to 9th grade and high school space studies elements of Science courses.


I. Auditory: "Nickel-odeon"

In this activity, students can display approximations of patterns of various elements on a spectrum which is placed upon the keys of a piano keyboard. The bands are represented by dark lines made by painted toothpicks.

  1. Print the visible light image saved in PDF. Zoom to tabloid size, and cut to strips for keys of keyboard.
    image of spectrum

  2. Label one side of a keyboard "blue", and the other side "red".
    photo of spectrum strips on piano keys

  3. Provide a solid form of the spectrum so that students can see the intact, uncut view.

  4. Using black paper or tape strips, model two sample "prints" (one for H and one for He) (or nickel - to include the name of the activity). One source for emission line spectra of the elements is
    OR, color toothpicks with black marker, and place on the spectrum model in the appropriate place.
    photo of marked piano keys

  5. Explain the models to the students.

  6. "Play" the chord that results from the markings, and allow students to "hear" the element - the sound that results when H is "played" or He is "played".

  7. Encourage small groups of students to take turns creating their own "chords" for other elements, and design opportunities for discussion.

  8. Explain that this is only a simulated model.

  9. Transfer the experience to the concept.
    photo of marked piano keys

II. Kinesthetic: "Analyze This!"

In this activity, students use their bodies to make patterns of the bands.

Alternative Activity:
An enlarged visible spectrum may be placed on a wall or white board. A curtain rod construction can be mounted above. Bands can be suspended from this rod, and slid into place to construct patterns.

  1. Using paint, represent the visible light spectrum on mural paper.

  2. OR - Using a color printer, print the visible spectrum on an overhead, and project it on a white board.

  3. OR project a spectrum from an LCD

  4. Groups of students (perhaps volunteers could dress in black), position themselves along the spectrum to model various element "prints".

  5. Connect the model to the scientific concept.

  6. As added interest, a digital camera could be used to get pictures of the students as they model the element patterns, and pictures could be printed and posted on a wall that displays the elements.
    photo of spectrum images on the wall

Spectra of Gas Discharges
WebQuest: Electromagnetic Spectrum
Cosmic Chemistry WebQuest


A service of the High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC), Dr. Alan Smale (Director), within the Astrophysics Science Division (ASD) at NASA/GSFC

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