Orsola de Marco studies the rainbow spectra of stars

Orsola De Marco, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History, studies the light of stars split into a rainbow of colors – what astronomers commonly refer to as a ‘spectrum.’

Orsola De Marco: Imagine the surprise when Newton, in the 17th century, managed to get some white light through a prism and projected it onto a wall and saw the rainbow. Imagine the amazement of finding colors in what looked white!

That’s Orsola De Marco, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History. Like Isaac Newton, she studies rainbows, which astronomers commonly refer to as spectra.

Orsola De Marco: A spectrum is exactly that rainbow except because of modern technology and how much further we’ve gone from the science of the prism, it is truly, truly amazing just what is in that light.

Using special instruments, De Marco measures the visible and ultraviolet light from stars.

Orsola De Marco: And by seeing that we actually can study both the temperature and density of the blanket of the outside of the star.

Light also gives clues about the elements a particular star contains, and how much of each element.

Orsola De Marco: We can also study the chemical composition, which is absolutely key to patch together the history of the stars and history of galaxies, as they’re made of stars.

De Marco says there’s enough information in star-generated rainbows to keep her busy for a very long time.

Our thanks to:
Orsola De Marco
American Museum of Natural History
New York, New York

Beth Lebwohl