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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 by its wavelengths and records this data.[2] A spectrograph typically has a multi-channel detector system or camera that detects and records the spectrum of light.[2][3]

The term was first used in 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.[4]


Stellar and solar spectrographEdit

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 spectrograph (MIRI).

Echelle spectrographEdit

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 alsoEdit


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

Further readingEdit

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

External linksEdit