The English chemist William Hyde Wollaston was in 1802 the first person to note the appearance of a number of dark features in the solar spectrum. In 1814, Fraunhofer independently rediscovered the lines and began a systematic study and careful measurement of the wavelength of these features. In all, he mapped over 570 lines, and designated the principle features with the letters A through K, and weaker lines with other letters.
It was later discovered by Kirchoff and Bunsen that each chemical element was associated with a set of spectral lines, and deduced that the dark lines in the solar spectrum were caused by absorption by those elements in the upper layers of the sun. Some of the observed features are also caused by absorption in Oxygen molecules in the atmosphere.
The major Fraunhofer lines, and the elements they are associated with, are shown in the following table:
|Designation||Element||Wavelength (nm)||Designation||Element||Wavelength (nm)|
|C||H α||656.281||G'||H γ||434.047|
The Fraunhofer C-, F-, G'-, and h- lines correspond to the alpha, beta, gamma and delta lines of the Balmer series of emission lines of the hydrogen atom.
Because of their well defined wavelengths, Fraunhofer lines are often used to characterize the refractive index and dispersion properties of optical materials.
See also Abbe number, Timeline of solar astronomy.