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 researches, writes and helps produce science content in audio and video formats for EarthSky. She is one of the authors on EarthSky.org, a script-writer for our podcasts, and helps host our English science podcasts in 90-second, 8-minute and 22-minute formats. Beth came to EarthSky in 2006 from the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Astrophysics, where she was surrounded by some of the greatest telescope-building, equation-wielding, code-writing physicists of our time. And they made her think . . . this science thing . . . it's pretty cool.