Atomic spectroscopy is the determination of elemental composition by using the Electromagnetic Spectrum or Mass Spectrum, respectively to optical or mass spectroscopy. It can be divided by atomization source or by the type of spectroscopy used. In the latter case, the main division is between optical and mass spectrometry. Mass spectrometry generally gives significantly better analytical performance, but is also significantly more complex. This complexity translates into higher purchase costs, higher operational costs, more operator training, and a greater number of components that can potentially fail. Because optical spectroscopy is often less expensive and has performance adequate for many tasks, it is far more common Atomic absorption spectrometers are one of the most commonly sold and used analytical devices.
Electrons exist in energy levels (i.e. atomic orbitals) within an atom. Atomic orbitals are quantized, meaning they exist as defined values instead of being continuous (see: atomic orbitals). Electrons may move between orbitals, but in doing so they must absorb or emit energy equal to the energy difference between their atom's specific quantized orbital energy levels. In optical spectroscopy, energy absorbed to move an electron to a higher energy level (higher orbital) and/or the energy emitted as the electron moves to a lower energy level is absorbed or emitted in the form of photons (light particles). Because each element has a unique number of electrons, an atom will absorb/release energy in a pattern unique to its elemental identity (e.g. Ca, Na, etc.) and thus will absorb/emit photons in a correspondingly unique pattern. The type of atoms present in a sample, or the amount of atoms present in a sample can be deduced from measuring these changes in light wavelength and light intensity.
Optical spectroscopy is further divided into Atomic absorption spectroscopy, Atomic Emission Spectroscopy, and Fluorescence Spectroscopy.