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Absorption lines

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Spectral line
A spectral line is a dark or bright line in an otherwise uniform and continuous spectrum, resulting from emission or absorption of light in a narrow frequency range, compared with the nearby frequencies. Spectral lines are often used to identify atoms and molecules from their characteristic spectral lines. These "fingerprints" can be compared to the previously collected fingerprints of atoms and molecules, and are thus used to identify the atomic and molecular components of stars and planets which would otherwise be impossible.

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Absorption lines
Black lines corresponding to missing discrete coloured lines in continuous spectra due to light from behind being absorbed by atoms (or molecules). Study of these Fraunhofer (1787-1826) lines is helpful in identifying non-radiating atoms in space, though 15,000 lines have been observed in the Sun. It was unrecognised absorption lines in interstellar spectra that were identified as due to a previously unknown allotrope of carbon. This spherical shell molecule of 60 atoms was named Buckminster Fullerine and later found on Earth.

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