spectroscope, optical instrument for producing spectral lines and measuring their wavelengths and intensities, used in spectral analysis (see spectrum). When a material is heated to incandescence it emits light that is characteristic of the atomic makeup of the material. In the original spectroscope design in the early 19th cent., light entered a slit and a collimating lens transformed the light into a thin beam of parallel rays. A prism then separated the beam into its spectrum. The observer then viewed the spectrum through a tube with a scale that was transposed up the spectrum image, enabling its direct measurement. With the development of photographic film, the more accurate spectrograph was developed. It was based on the same principle as the spectroscope, but it had a camera in place of the telescope. In recent years the electronic circuits built around the photomultiplier tube have replaced the camera, allowing real-time spectrographic analysis of far greater accuracy. Such spectrum analysis, or spectroscopy, has become an important scientific tool for analyzing the composition of unknown material. It has found applications in fields as disparate as astronomy and forensic chemistry.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.