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Quote from my textbook

The hydrogen spectrum has spectral lines which correspond to transitions of the electron between energy levels.

This statement implies that hydrogen has multiple electron orbits, which is not true. Hydrogen has electron configuration of only 1 and not like, say, Calcium which was multiple electron levels. How can this be true then? What is an element spectrum anyway? Do you burn metals and find their spectrum?

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    $\begingroup$ Hydrogen might only have one electron, but that's not to say that one electron can't go up to a higher energy level and then drop down. avogadro.co.uk/light/bohr/spectra.htm $\endgroup$
    – user81619
    Sep 18 '15 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ The statement doesn't imply orbits. It implies different energy levels. No mechanism is specified in that sentence. Hydrogen has an infinite number of energy levels. I think you are mistaking filled orbitals with orbitals belonging to higher energy levels that are simply not filled in ground state hydrogen atoms. The one electron, however, can be in any one of them, at least for a short amount of time. Those are the excited states. $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    Sep 18 '15 at 15:43
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The hydrogen atom has an infinite number or quantum mechanically allowed energy levels, as explained on this web page.

Using that same link, scroll up the page a bit to better understand how transitions between these energy levels give rise to absorption or emission of photons of very specific frequencies.

Then scroll further down to see how the hydrogen spectrum arises and how it can be obtained (high voltage low pressure discharge tube).

Do you burn metals and find their spectrum?

Elements can be made to emit their spectral lines in various ways. For gases, the method shown in the link (gas discharge tube) generally works. For metals other excitation methods are available which mostly come down to strong heating. Burning the metal will also work in some cases (but many aren't that combustible and others burn at too high temperature).

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  • $\begingroup$ Aren't energy levels and orbits the same? Can't electrons only go up or down one integer energy level? I don't understand the links or anything I'm confused $\endgroup$ Sep 19 '15 at 3:32
  • $\begingroup$ @silenceislife: Hi. Electrons don't have orbits, they find themselves in so-called orbitals, each with a set of quantum numbers. The Principal Quantum Number determines the energy level of the orbital. An electron can jump (up or down) several levels at once. The orbitals and energy levels are the eigen solutions of the time independent Schrodinger equation: hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/hframe.html $\endgroup$
    – Gert
    Sep 19 '15 at 13:37

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