General Astronomy/The Doppler Effect

The Doppler effect or Doppler shift describes a phenomenon in which the wavelength of radiated energy from a body approaching the observer is shifted toward shorter wavelengths, whereas the wavelengths are shifted to longer values when the emitting object is receding from the observer. This happens with any form of any energy emitted in waves, including sound and light. Sound propagates in a different manner from electromagnetic energy, but the effect is analogous.

With the sound of a moving object, like with a train, the wavelength of the approaching train horn will sound like a buzzing noise at first getting louder intill it passes you and then fades away at a lower tone. That is because the wavelengths that you are hearing is being squished in the front of the train and then stretched out as it passes by. When the wavelength is shorter (coming closer to you) the frequency of the wavelength is going to be bigger, with a higher pitch. The opposite happens when the wavelength is longer; the frequency will be smaller, which is an effect that rapidly changes to a lower pitch as the train passes, going away from you. This works with light waves as well, in terms of visible light. Approaching objects shift toward shorter wavelengths are called blue shifted. Where as the light of receding objects have longer wavelengths, those wavelengths are known as red shifted. As shown in the diagram below if you’re looking outward from the telescope, you can see the red shift going out toward an object, or in this case an unseen planet. Then there are the blue shifted wavelengths that are coming back towards the telescope from the unseen planet.

The relative speed of stars moving toward or away from the Sun, as detected through the doppler effect, gives clues to the Sun's motion through the Milky Way Galaxy as well as other information about the motion of stars, star clusters and gas clouds in space. The relative motions of binary stars (two stars orbiting around a common center of gravity) can be detected in the variations of their light, and in fact even some binary stars have been detected that cannot be seen as separate stars, but whose binary nature is known from the variations in their combined spectra.

Since both sound and light waves have red and blue shifts, Edwin Hubble was able to use the doppler effect to discover that our neighboring galaxies are receding from the Milky Way. This lead to his conclusion that the universe was expanding. The red shift or more specifically known as the Cosmological Red Shift because of its implications for cosmology; the study of origin and evolution of the universe. Scientist could even go further into discovering more of the universe when they realized they could add velocity to Hubble's equation. Using the shift spectrum they now can find the distances based off of those observations.