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The KMOS spectrograph.[1]
Horizontal Solar Spectrograph at the Czech Astronomical Institute in Ondřejov, Czech Republic

A spectrograph is an instrument that separates light into a frequency spectrum and records the signal using a camera.[2] There are several kinds of machines referred to as spectrographs, depending on the precise nature of the waves. The term was first used in July, 1876 by Dr. Henry Draper when he invented the earliest version of this device, and which he used to take several photographs of the spectrum of Vega. This earliest version of the spectrograph was cumbersome to use and difficult to manage.[3]

One way to define a spectrograph is as a device that separates light by its wavelength and records this data.[4] A spectrograph typically has a multi-channel detector system or imaging system that detects the spectrum of light.[4]

Stellar and solar spectrograph[edit]

The first spectrographs used photographic paper as the detector. The star spectral classification and discovery of the main sequence, Hubble's law and the Hubble sequence were all made with spectrographs that used photographic paper. The plant pigment phytochrome was discovered using a spectrograph that used living plants as the detector. More recent spectrographs use electronic detectors, such as CCDs which can be used for both visible and UV light. The exact choice of detector depends on the wavelengths of light to be recorded.

The forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope will contain both a near-infrared spectrograph (NIRSpec) and a mid-infrared spectrometer (MIRI).

Echelle spectrograph[edit]

An echelle spectrograph uses two diffraction gratings, rotated 90 degrees with respect to each other and placed close to one another. Therefore, an entrance point and not a slit is used and a 2d CCD-chip records the spectrum. Usually one would guess to retrieve a spectrum on the diagonal, but when both gratings have a wide spacing and one is blazed so that only the first order is visible and the other is blazed that a lot of higher orders are visible, one gets a very fine spectrum nicely folded onto a small common CCD-chip. The small chip also means that the collimating optics need not to be optimized for coma or astigmatism, but the spherical aberration can be set to zero.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Powerful New VLT Instrument Arrives in Chile". ESO Announcement. Retrieved 11 October 2012. 
  2. ^ A. D. McNaught and A. Wilkinson, ed. (1997). "Spectrograph". IUPAC Compendium of Chemical Terminology - the Gold Book (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications. ISBN 0-9678550-9-8. doi:10.1351/goldbook. 
  3. ^ George Barker, Memoir of Henry Draper, 1837-1882 (PDF), p. 103 
  4. ^ a b Spectrometer, Spectroscope, and SpectrographExcerpt from Field Guide to Spectroscopy

Further reading[edit]

  • James, John (2007), Spectrograph Design Fundamentals (Cambridge University Press) ISBN 0-521-86463-1

External links[edit]