astronomical spectroscopy books

book review score+5

Spectro­physics, 2nd ed
by Anne P. Thorne
Chapman and Hall, 2013 reprint of 1988 ed., 390 pages

This book, long out of print, as just been re-issued as a paperback. It covers atomic spectroscopy physics, laser spectroscopy, interferometers, and absorption and emission of electromagnetic radiation. This is stuff that you need to know if you plan to use spectra to study astrophysical phenomena.

Chapter 2 is a concise review of quantum mechanics as it pertains to atomic structure. This stuff about degeneracy, quantum numbers, and transitions is pounded into the heads of undergraduate chemistry majors. I didn't notice any errors (although the figures in Chapter 1 expressing cm-1 with both positive and negative numbers seemed a bit odd), but I got the impression that this section might be tough sledding unless you already know some of it. The main benefit for amateurs is in chapters 5, 6, and 7 which discuss gratings, prisms, and interferometers. The presentation is dry: no color pictures, no hand-holding, and a little calculus, but the chapters lead into each other in a logical way. You don't just get a sequence of equations here—this author also makes sure you understand what they mean and why they're important. Her enthusiasm for the technology is evident as well.

The chapter on laser spectroscopy is new to the 2nd edition (1998), and there are nice explanations of perturbation theory and interferometry. There is a great discussion of line broadening, and even an accessible introduction to radiative transfer. This is an astrophysics-oriented undergraduate-level physics textbook, but it's useful for any reader interested in absorption and emission of radiation by gases and plasma. Besides the equations it's also packed with insights. This is one of the most useful and most well organized textbooks on this subject ever published. A fantastic book. Highly recommended.

dec 08, 2013

book review score+4

Astronomical Spectroscopy, 2nd ed
An Introduction to the Atomic and Molecular Physics of Astronomical Spectra
Jonathan Tennyson
World, 2011

This one has lots of spectra, equations, diagrams, and problems (with answers to selected problems in the back). Only one figure, showing predicted infrared spectra of NH3, H2O and CH4 from an exoplanet, is in color. Undergraduate-level stuff; assumes a very rudimentary knowledge of quantum mechanics. Printed in China. For some reason, the cover of this book is extremely slippery—any books placed on top of it gradually slide off and crash to the floor. It's a fascinating topic, but I'm having trouble reading this sucker, because I can't hold on to it. Some books you can't put down; this one you can't pick up.

Okay ... after judicious application of sandpaper, I was finally able to read this one. It's organized more by atoms than Thorne: hydrogen, helium, and alkali atoms each get a chapter. It's much less technical, and more basic with fewer equations and fewer insights, but there's more emphasis on diatomic molecules, with chapters on rotational, vibrational, and electronic spectra of molecules. There are also 10-page chapters on X-ray spectra and spectra of nebulae. UV and IR don't get chapters, but they're mixed together with visible. Nothing on hardware. The nebulae spectra are very nice indeed; in fact, most of the spectra here are well-annotated. @#$%, I just dropped it again.

dec 15, 2013

book review score+3

Astronomical Spectroscopy for Amateurs
Ken M. Harrison
Springer, 2011

The theme of this book is that by using homemade equipment and with some basic understanding of astrophysics, amateurs are no longer limited to taking pretty pictures of the stars, but can obtain real information on the chemical composition, rotational speed, temperature, and redshifts of stars, comets, meteors, planets, and nebulas.

This is one of the better books at this level on the subject. Despite the modest technical level, it doesn't talk down to readers. It's also a very light introduction to spectroscopy suitable for beginners. It's not your typical astrophysics text: there's no quantum mechanics and, in fact, only a few basic equations. The goal is to get beginners oriented and keep them from giving up. Even so, I would definitely advise a beginner to gain extensive practice with astrophotography before attempting any of the spectroscopy projects described here.

The biggest drawback of this book is that, in its effort not to discourage readers, Harrison glosses over the real problems they will face. The biggest of these is sensitivity. The enthusiastic beginner might not realize that if the light from a star is spread out into 4000 1-Angstrom segments, it stands to reason that the image in your camera will be at least 4000 times dimmer. So the amateur is necessarily restricted to brighter objects. The brightest and most convenient of these is the Sun, and procedures for taking solar spectra are covered. Also covered are overviews of some of the more popular software packages for amateurs.

The most useful part is the section on building spectroscopes. Because good-quality spectroscopes are heavy and expensive, many amateurs build and calibrate their own. The second half of the book contains many diagrams and design hints. The book contains many high-quality photos, including color photos of spectra and equipment. Other amateur-level books on the subject include Practical Amateur Spectroscopy, Spectroscopy: The Key to the Stars, Stars and their Spectra and Astronomical Spectroscopy: An Introduction. For more technical detail see Thorne's Spectrophysics (reviewed at left).

feb 10, 2013

book review score+1

Using Commercial Amateur Astronomical Spectrographs
Jeffrey L. Hopkins
Springer, 2014

Another nicely published book for beginning amateurs published by Springer. This book discusses the basics of acquiring a spectrum and processing the data with pre-packaged Windows software like Excel and Rspec. The level is appropriate for teenagers or beginning amateurs; there's no theory and no physics. Its strong point is that it contains a fair number of actual (amateur-quality) spectra from different stars. Despite the title, there are also some reasonable-quality color photos of amateur-grade spectrographs that can give you ideas about what kinds of extra stuff like fiber optic connectors and calibration lamps you might need. The writing contains a few ungrammatical sentence fragments, but is otherwise clear.

dec 15, 2013