K-alpha


In X-ray spectroscopy, K-alpha emission lines result when an electron transitions to the innermost "K" shell (principal quantum number 1) from a 2p orbital of the second or "L" shell (with principal quantum number 2). The line is actually a doublet, with slightly different energies depending on spin-orbit interaction energy between the electron spin and the orbital momentum of the 2p orbital. K-alpha is typically by far the strongest X-ray spectral line for an element bombarded with energy sufficient to cause maximally intense X-ray emission.
An example of K-alpha lines are those seen for iron as iron atoms radiating X-rays spiralling into a black hole at the center of a galaxy. For such purposes, the frequency of the line is adequately calculated to 2-digit accuracy by the use of Moseley's law. This formula is 10.2 eV multiplied by the square of a quantity one less than the atomic number of the element in question (atomic number minus 1). For example, K-alpha for iron (Z = 26) is calculated in this fashion as 10.2 eV (25)2 = 6.38 keV. For astrophysical purposes, Doppler and other effects (such as gravitational broadening) show the iron line to no better accuracy than 6.4 keV.

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