From the application point of view, gas temperature is one of the most important parameters for atmospheric plasmas. Based on the fact that the gas temperature is closely related with the rotational temperature of an atmospheric plasma, a spectroscopic method of measuring the rotational temperature is described in this work by analyzing OH, O-2 and N-2(+) molecular spectra emitted from the atmospheric plasma in ambient air. The OH and N-2(+) molecular spectra are emitted because of the oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen atoms existing in the ambient air. The O-2 diatomic molecular spectrum is emitted from the oxygen plasma that is frequently produced for atmospheric plasma applications. In order to utilize a spectrometer with modest spectral resolution, a synthetic diatomic molecular spectrum was compared with the experimentally obtained spectrum. The rotational temperatures determined by the above three different molecular spectra are in good agreement within 2.4% error. In the case of a plasma with low gas temperature, the temperature measured by a thermocouple was compared to verify the accuracy of the spectroscopic method; and the results show excellent agreement. From the study, it was found that an appropriate diatomic molecular species can be chosen to be used as a thermometer depending on experimental circumstances. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V All rights reserved.