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In this activity, learners construct their own spectroscope as they explore and observe spectra from familiar light sources. Learners can be challenged to make technological improvements to their spectroscopes and/or participate in extension activities that expand their understanding of different kinds of spectra and sharpen their observing skills.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 14 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Incandescent light bulb (60-100-watt frosted) and base
  • String of clear holiday lights (optional)
  • Fluorescent light (single bulb)
  • Transmission grating sheet (available from science supply store)
  • 2 transparency sheets
  • Glo-Doodler (available from Colorforms) (optional)
  • Manila folders (halves)
  • Black paper
  • Index cards (3x5-inch size)
  • Tape or rubber bands
  • Scissors
  • Small paper clips
  • Hole punchers


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Astronomy
    • Solar System
      • The Sun
  • Physical Sciences
    • Light and Optics
      • Electromagnetic Spectrum
      • Sunlight and Color
    • Vibration and Waves
      • Diffraction and Interference
  • Engineering and Technology
    • Technology
      • Information and Communication
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Education and Outreach Office, McDonald Observatory


  • All rights reserved, The University of Texas at Austin, 2008

Funding Source:

  • NASA (Space Telescope Science Institute, operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy), HST-EO-10861.35-A