Rainbow Fingerprints

Rainbow Fingerprints

Every astronomical object has a unique spectrum, or “rainbow fingerprint”, that can allow astronomers to determine its contents, age, formation history, movements through space, temperature and more!

The AAO continually builds innovative spectrographs for the 4-metre Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) and UK Schmidt Telescopes to collect spectral data for hundreds of thousands of stars and galaxies.

This video follows starlight from the distant cosmos as it hits the primary mirror of the AAT and is guided along the inside of optical fibres.  The optical fibres feed the starlight to the spectrograph, which is a series of special optics, including an advanced type of prism, and separates the light into its rainbow spectrum.

The separated light is focussed onto the CCD detector. The video shows actual data from the AAOmega spectrograph.  Each horizontal line represents single astronomical objects - in this case galaxies.  The short, bright streaks shooting in any direction are caused by cosmic rays, which zoom through our bodies and the Earth all the time!  At last, the video reveals the final science quality spectra for two different types of galaxies, one spiral and one elliptical.  

This video was produced by AAO Astronomer Dr Amanda Bauer.