Continuum spectra

Important examples of continuum spectra are blackbody radiation, synchrotron radiation, and optically thin thermal radiation. Each has a characteristic shape on a spectral plot and each reflects particular physical conditions in the source. For example, if the specific intensity or the spectral flux density of a radio source increases with frequency, the mechanism that gives rise to the emission is most likely blackbody radiation, and if it decreases with frequency it is most likely to be synchrotron radiation. The Crab nebula spectrum is an example of a continuum source with a spectrum that extends from radio to gamma-ray energies (Fig. 2). The radiation is mostly due to synchrotron radiation.

We present an observer's view of these emission mechanisms here. We derive the spectral shapes from basic physical principles in Astrophysics Processes (see Preface).

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