Chemical Sciences: A Manual for CSIR-UGC National Eligibility Test for Lectureship and JRF/Equivalent width

The equivalent width of a spectral line is a measure of the area of the line on plot of intensity versus wavelength. It is found by forming a rectangle with a height equal to that of continuum emission, and finding the width such that the area of the rectangle is equal to the area in the spectral line. It is a measure of the strength of spectral features that is primarily used in astronomy.[1]

A diagram indicating the equivalent width corresponding to the absorption line, which is shown in red.

Definition edit

Formally, the equivalent width is given by the equation


Here,   represents the continuum intensity on either side of the absorption (or emission) feature, while   represents the intensity across the entire wavelength range of interest. Then   represents the width of a hypothetical line which drops to an intensity of zero and has the "same integrated flux deficit from the continuum as the true one."[2] This equation can be applied to either emission or absorption, but when applied to emission, the value of   is negative, and so the absolute value is used.

Applications edit

The equivalent width is used as a quantitative measure of the strength of spectral features. The equivalent width is a convenient choice because the shapes of spectral features can vary depending upon the configuration of the system which is producing the lines. For instance, the line may experience Doppler broadening due to motions of the gas emitting the photons. The photons will be shifted away from the line center, thus rendering the height of the emission line a poor measure of its overall strength. The equivalent width, on the other hand, "measures the fraction of energy removed from the spectrum by the line," regardless of the broadening intrinsic to the line or a detector with poor resolution.[3] Thus the equivalent width can in many conditions yield the number of absorbing or emitting atoms.[1]

Measurements of the equivalent width of the Balmer alpha transition in T Tauri stars are used in order to classify individual T Tauri stars as being classical or weak-lined.[2] The equivalent width can also be used in studying star formation in Lyman alpha galaxies, as the equivalent width of the Lyman alpha line is related to the star formation rate in the galaxy.[4]

References edit

  1. a b Carroll, Bradly; Ostlie, Dale (2007). An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics. Pearson Addison-Wesley. ISBN 0321442849.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. a b c Stahler, Steven; Palla, Francesco (2004). The Formation of Stars. Wiley-VCH. ISBN 3527405593.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. Spitzer, Lyman (1998). Physical Processes in the Interstellar Medium. Wiley-VCH. ISBN 0471022322.
  4. Dijkstra, Mark; Westra, Eduard (2010). "Star formation indicators and line equivalent width in Lya galaxies". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 401 (4): 2343–2348.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)