Chemistry Question #103

D Selman, a 18 year old male from the Internet asks on December 13, 1999,

Why do I see green and orange lines in a sodium ion when my flame is the color of yellow?

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The answer

Louis K. Peterson answered on December 13, 1999

In a hot flame or other source of high energy, atoms and molecules absorb some of the energy and undergo what is known as excitation. These excited species soon release the excess energy as light, giving us the colour or colours that we see. Most excited species give off many "colours", but one of these colours is much more intense than the others - that is the dominant one that our eye detects. So for sodium atoms in a flame, the green emission is very weak, whereas the yellow/orange emission is very intense. What is really interesting is: why are some emissions weak while others are strong? But that is another story altogether.

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