|MadSci Network: Chemistry|
Peter, The observed line spectrum of hydrogen gas can be precisely predicted through quantum mechanical methods, and thus provides empirical support for the theory. It is also a very satisfying explanation for an easily observable phenomena. The electrons in hydrogen gas can exist only in certain discrete states, because of their wave nature. These states have different energy levels. As an electric potential is applied to the gas, the gas can become excited, and the electrons get kicked up to higher, unstable, energy states. When the electrons fall to a lower energy state, the energy is carried off by a single photon. This photon has a wavelength determined by the energy difference between the two states of the electron. Since there are discrete energy states, there are specific frequencies of light emitted. You can check out any sufficently advanced freshman physics text for more information about quantum mechanics.
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