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Telescopes from the Ground Up
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What does a spectroscope do?
Diagram demonstrating how a prism creates a spectrum.

A spectroscope helps us find out what stars are made of. It disperses, or separates, white light from a star into a very wide spectrum of colors — much wider than a normal prism does. When spread very wide, black lines appear in the spectrum.

The first scientists to observe these lines wondered why they were there and what they meant. It turns out that particular elements in the star created particular patterns of lines. Once scientists knew the element responsible for a certain pattern, they knew which elements were present in the star. This was a revolutionary discovery.

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