Visible Spectra of the Elements

2021-06-18: Each element's spectrum is unique, like a fingerprint. But some element spectra are near doppelgangers when observed visually. So they're different. But they're similar. But they're different. But they're similar. Nitrogen and lead, for example, have an uncanny visual resemblance, as do copper and chromium. About a dozen elements' spectra can be described as a dense swath of green lines and a dense swath of blue/violet lines. Each of these elements have their lines at slightly different wavelengths, so can be readily distinguished in an expensive spectroscope, but the eye does not measure wavelengths so precisely.

Most of the elements in the Interactive Viewer now include links to their closest lookalikes, making it easy to compare and contrast spectra that are similar in appearance.

Earlier Updates...
Why care about spectra?
Don't spectra all look the same?
How can you tell them apart?


If the emission lines of the chemical elements were observed through a diffraction grating, they would look something like this (dynamic image - may take a moment to load):

Emission spectra of the elements
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Note the only gap in the above image should be astatine (At). If you see any other missing spectra, please go into the interactive viewer and click on the missing element(s).


High Resolution Version

Periodic table format

and Photographic Periodic Table

Interactive Viewer

Screensaver

Runs entirely in browser - no download, no risk.


Due to frequent updates to the data, you may notice variances in the table above vs. the high res version v. the interactive version. When in doubt, the interactive version is always the most up to date.

This image is based on spectrum line positions and intensities from MIT Wavelength Tables (1938) and the NIST Atomic Spectrum Database. Most of the spectra have had intensity corrections applied in order to match actual spectrum photos of samples of each element.

Astatine is missing from this image as no visible lines of this element are known. Some lines of francium have been extrapolated from known energy levels.

Disclaimer: Spectra that have not been photographed might not look exactly like the image above. Some spectra may deviate considerably from the depictions pictured here. We are photographing as many element spectra as possible in order to confirm the line intensities of the source data. For most of the actinides, only a few bright lines are known, but the actual spectra should be about as complex as their corresponding lanthanides (compare actinium with thorium or plutonium with uranium and samarium), we just don't have data for most of the lines. Spectra that have been photographed do for certain look like the image above. Spectra not yet photographed or not sufficient quality image include: B, F, P, S, Cl, Se, Br, Rb, Tc, Cs, Pm, Po, Rn, Fr, Ra, and all of the actinides except U. All of these spectra should be treated as suspect in the image above.

The element spectrum images on this page, including the linked high resolution version and the periodic table format image, are Public Domain or CC0.