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Chapter 4 Light and Telescopes


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Title: Chapter 4 Light and Telescopes

Chapter 4 Light and Telescopes
  • He burned his house down
  • for the fire insurance and
  • spent the proceeds on a telescope.
  • The Star-Splitter

  • Light is a treasure that links us to the sky.
  • An astronomers quest is to gather as much light
    as possible from the moon, sun, planets, stars,
    and galaxiesin order to extract information
    about their natures.

  • Telescopes, which gather and focus light for
    analysis, can help us do that.
  • Nearly all the interesting objects in the sky are
    very faint sources of light.
  • So, large telescopes are built to collect the
    greatest amount of light possible.

  • This chapters discussion of astronomical
    research concentrates on large telescopes and the
    special instruments and techniques used to
    analyze light.

  • To gather light that is visible to your unaided
    eye, a normal telescope would work fine.
  • However, visible light is only one type of
    radiation arriving here from distant objects.

  • Astronomers can extract information from other
    forms of radiation by using other types of
  • Radio telescopes, for example, give an entirely
    different view of the sky.
  • Some of these specialized telescopes can be used
    from Earths surface.
  • Others, though, must go high in Earths
    atmosphere or even above it.

Radiation Information from Space
  • Astronomers no longer study the sky by mapping
    constellations or charting the phases of the

Radiation Information from Space
  • Modern astronomers analyze light using
    sophisticated instruments and techniques to
    investigate the compositions, motions, internal
    processes, and evolution of celestial objects.
  • To understand this, you must learn about the
    nature of light.

Light as a Wave and as a Particle
  • If you have noticed the colors in a soap bubble,
    then you have seen one effect of light behaving
    as a wave.
  • When that same light enters the light meter on a
    camera, it behaves as a particle.
  • How light behaves depends on how you treat it.
  • Light has both wavelike and particlelike

Light as a Wave and as a Particle
  • Sound is another type of wave that you have
    already experienced.
  • Sound waves are an air-pressure disturbance that
    travels through the air from source to ear.

Light as a Wave and as a Particle
  • Sound requires a solid, liquid, or gas medium to
    carry it.
  • So, for example, in space outside a spacecraft,
    there can be no sound.

Light as a Wave and as a Particle
  • In contrast, light is composed of a combination
    of electric and magnetic waves that can travel
    through empty space.
  • Unlike sound, light waves do not require a medium
    and thus can travel through a vacuum.

Light as a Wave and as a Particle
  • As light is made up of both electric and magnetic
    fields, it is referred to as electromagnetic
  • Visible light is only one form of electromagnetic

Light as a Wave and as a Particle
  • Electromagnetic radiation is a wave phenomenon.
  • That is, it is associated with a periodically
    repeating disturbance (a wave) that carries

Light as a Wave and as a Particle
  • Imagine waves in water.
  • If you disturb a pool of water, waves spread
    across the surface.
  • Now, imagine placing a ruler parallel to the
    travel direction of the wave.
  • The distance between peaks is the wavelength.

Light as a Wave and as a Particle
  • The changing electric and magnetic fields of
    electromagnetic waves travel through space at
    about 300,000 kilometers per second (186,000
    miles per second).
  • That is commonly referred to as the speed of
  • It is, however, the speed of all electromagnetic

Light as a Wave and as a Particle
  • It may seem odd to use the word radiation when
    discussing light.
  • Radiation really refers to anything that spreads
    outward from a source.
  • Light radiates from a source, so you can
    correctly refer to light as a form of radiation.

Light as a Wave and as a Particle
  • The electromagnetic spectrum is simply the types
    of electromagnetic radiation arranged in order of
    increasing wavelength.
  • Rainbows are spectra of visible light.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • The colors of visible light have different
  • Red has the longest wavelength.
  • Violet has the shortest.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • The average wavelength of visible light is about
    0.0005 mm.
  • 50 light waves would fit end-to-end across the
    thickness of a sheet of paper.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • It is too awkward to measure such short distances
    in millimeters.
  • So, physicists and astronomers describe the
    wavelength of light using either of two units
  • Nanometer (nm), one billionth of a meter (10-9 m)
  • Ångstrom (Å), named after the Swedish astronomer
    Anders Ångström, equal to 10-10 m or 0.1 nm

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • The wavelength of visible light ranges between
    about 400 nm and 700 nm, or, equivalently, 4,000
    Å and 7,000 Å.
  • Infrared astronomers often refer to wavelengths
    using units of microns (10-6 m).
  • Radio astronomers use millimeters, centimeters,
    or meters.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • The figure shows how the visible spectrum makes
    up only a small part of the electro-magnetic

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • Beyond the red end of the visible range lies
    infrared (IR) radiationwith wavelengths ranging
    from 700 nm to about 1 mm.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • Your eyes are not sensitive to this radiation.
  • Your skin, though, senses it as heat.
  • A heat lamp is nothing more than a bulb that
    gives off large amounts of infrared radiation.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • The figure is an artists conception of the
    English astronomer William Herschel measuring
    infrared radiationand, thus, discovering that
    there is such a thing as invisible light.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • Radio waves have even longer wavelengths than IR
  • The radio radiation used for AM radio
    transmissions has wavelengths of a few hundred
  • FM, television, and also military, governmental,
    and amateur radio transmissions have wavelengths
    from a few tens of centimeters to a few tens of

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • Microwave transmissions, used for radar and
    long-distance telephone communications, have
    wavelengths from about 1 millimeter to a few

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • Electromagnetic waves with wavelengths shorter
    than violet light are called ultraviolet (UV).

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • Shorter-wavelength electromagnetic waves than UV
    are called X rays.
  • The shortest are gamma rays.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • The distinction between these wavelength ranges
    is mostly arbitrarythey are simply convenient
    human-invented labels.
  • For example, the longest-wavelength infrared
    radiation and the shortest-wavelength microwaves
    are the same.
  • Similarly, very short-wavelength ultraviolet
    light can be considered to be X rays.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • Nonetheless, it is all electromagnetic radiation,
    and you could say we are making light of it
  • All these types of radiation are the same
    phenomenon as light.
  • Some types your eyes can see, some types your
    eyes cant see.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • Although light behaves as a wave, under certain
    conditions, it also behaves as a particle.
  • A particle of light is called a photon.
  • You can think of a photon as a minimum-sized
    bundle of electromagnetic waves.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • The amount of energy a photon carries depends on
    its wavelength.
  • Shorter-wavelength photons carry more energy.
  • Longer-wavelength photons carry less energy.
  • A photon of visible light carries a small amount
    of energy.
  • An X-ray photon carries much more energy.
  • A radio photon carries much less.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • Astronomers are interested in electromagnetic
    radiation because it carries almost all available
    clues to the nature of planets, stars, and other
    celestial objects.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • Earths atmosphere is opaque to most
    electromagnetic radiation.
  • Gamma rays, X rays, and some radio waves are
    absorbed high in Earths atmosphere.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • A layer of ozone (O3) at an altitude of about 30
    km absorbs almost all UV radiation.
  • Water vapor in the lower atmosphere absorbs
    long-wavelength IR radiation.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • Only visible light, some short-wavelength
    infrared radiation, and some radio waves reach
    Earths surfacethrough what are called
    atmospheric windows.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • To study the sky from Earths surface, you must
    look out through one of these windows in the
    electromagnetic spectrum.

  • Astronomers build optical telescopes to gather
    light and focus it into sharp images.
  • This requires careful optical and mechanical
  • It leads astronomers to build very large
  • To understand that, you need to learn the
    terminology of telescopesstarting with the
    different types of telescopes and why some are
    better than others.

Two Kinds of Telescopes
  • Astronomical telescopes focus light into an image
    in one of two ways.
  • A lens bends (refracts) the light as it passes
    through the glass and brings it to a focus to
    form an image.
  • A mirrora curved piece of glass with a
    reflective surfaceforms an image by bouncing

Two Kinds of Telescopes
  • Thus, there are two types of astronomical
  • Refracting telescopes use a lens to gather and
    focus the light.
  • Reflecting telescopes use a mirror.

Two Kinds of Telescopes
  • The main lens in a refracting telescope is called
    the primary lens.
  • The main mirror in a reflecting telescope is
    called the primary mirror.

Two Kinds of Telescopes
  • Both kinds of telescopes form a small, inverted
    image that is difficult to observe directly.
  • So, a lens called the eyepiece is used to
    magnify the image and make it convenient to

Two Kinds of Telescopes
  • The focal length is the distance from a lens or
    mirror to the image it forms of a distant light
    source such as a star.

Two Kinds of Telescopes
  • Creating the proper optical shape to produce a
    good focus is an expensive process.
  • The surfaces of lenses and mirrors must be shaped
    and polished to have no irregularities larger
    than the wavelength of light.
  • Creating the optics for a large telescope can
    take months or years involve huge, precision
    machinery and employ several expert optical
    engineers and scientists.

Two Kinds of Telescopes
  • Refracting telescopes have serious disadvantages.
  • Most importantly, they suffer from an optical
    distortion that limits their usefulness.
  • When light is refracted through glass, shorter
    wavelengths bend more than longer wavelengths.
  • As a result, you see a color blur around every
  • This color separation is called chromatic
    aberration and it can be only partially corrected.

Two Kinds of Telescopes
  • Another disadvantage is that the glass in primary
    lenses must be pure and flawless because the
    light passes all the way through it.
  • For that same reason, the weight of the lens can
    be supported only around its outer edge.

Two Kinds of Telescopes
  • In contrast, light reflects from the front
    surface of a reflecting telescopes primary
    mirror but does not pass through it.
  • So, reflecting telescopes have no chromatic

Two Kinds of Telescopes
  • Also, mirrors are less expensive to make than
    similarly sized lenses and the weight of
    telescope mirrors can be supported easily.
  • For these reasons, every large astronomical
    telescope built since 1900 has been a reflecting

Two Kinds of Telescopes
  • Astronomers also build radio telescopes to gather
    radio radiation.
  • Radio waves from celestial objectslike visible
    light wavespenetrate Earths atmosphere and
    reach the ground.

Two Kinds of Telescopes
  • You can see how the dish reflector of a typical
    radio telescope focuses the radio waves so their
    intensity can be measured.
  • As radio wavelengths are so long, the disk
    reflector does not have to be as perfectly smooth
    as the mirror of a reflecting optical telescope.

The Powers of a Telescope
  • Astronomers struggle to build large telescopes
    because a telescope can help human eyes in three
    important ways.
  • These are called the three powers of a telescope.
  • The two most important of these three powers
    depend on the diameter of the telescope.

The Powers of a Telescope
  • Most celestial objects of interest to astronomers
    are faint.
  • So, you need a telescope that can gather large
    amounts of light to produce a bright image.

The Powers of a Telescope
  • Light-gathering power refers to the ability of a
    telescope to collect light.
  • Catching light in a telescope is like catching
    rain in a bucketthe bigger the bucket, the more
    rain it catches.

The Powers of a Telescope
  • The light-gathering power is proportional to the
    area of the primary mirrorthat is, proportional
    to the square of the primarys diameter.
  • A telescope with a diameter of 2 meters has four
    times (4X) the light-gathering power of a 1-meter
  • That is why astronomers use large telescopes and
    why telescopes are ranked by their diameters.

The Powers of a Telescope
  • One reason radio astronomers build big radio
    dishes is to collect enough radio photonswhich
    have low energiesand concentrate them for

The Powers of a Telescope
  • Resolving power refers to the ability of the
    telescope to reveal fine detail.

The Powers of a Telescope
  • One consequence of the wavelike nature of light
    is that there is an inevitable small blurring
    called a diffraction fringe around every point of
    light in the image.
  • You cannot see any detail smaller than the fringe.

The Powers of a Telescope
  • Astronomers cant eliminate diffraction fringes.
  • However, the fringes are smaller in larger
  • That means they have better resolving power and
    can reveal finer detail.
  • For example, a 2-meter telescope has diffraction
    fringes ½ as large, and thus 2X better resolving
    power, than a 1-meter telescope.

The Powers of a Telescope
  • The size of the diffraction fringes also depends
    on wavelength.
  • At the long wavelengths of radio waves, the
    fringes are large and the resolving power is
  • Thats another reason radio telescopes need to be
    larger than optical telescopes.

The Powers of a Telescope
  • One way to improve resolving power is to connect
    two or more telescopes in an interferometer.
  • This has a resolving power equal to that of a
    telescope as large as the maximum separation
    between the individual telescopes.

The Powers of a Telescope
  • The first interferometers were built by radio
    astronomers connecting radio dishes kilometers
  • Modern technology has allowed astronomers to
    connect optical telescopes to form
    interferometers with very high resolution.

The Powers of a Telescope
  • Aside from diffraction fringes, two other factors
    limit resolving power
  • Optical quality
  • Atmospheric conditions

The Powers of a Telescope
  • A telescope must contain high-quality optics to
    achieve its full potential resolving power.
  • Even a large telescope shows little detail if its
    optical surfaces have imperfections.

The Powers of a Telescope
  • Also, when you look through a telescope, you look
    through miles of turbulence in Earths
    atmosphere, which makes images dance and blura
    condition astronomers call seeing.

The Powers of a Telescope
  • A related phenomenon is the twinkling of a star.
  • The twinkles are caused by turbulence in Earths
  • A star near the horizonwhere you look through
    more airwill twinkle more than a star overhead.
  • On a night when the atmosphere is unsteady, the
    stars twinkle, the images are blurred, and the
    seeing is bad.

The Powers of a Telescope
  • Even with good seeing, the detail visible through
    a large telescope is limited.
  • This is not just by its diffraction fringes but
    by the steadiness of the air through which the
    observer must look.

The Powers of a Telescope
  • A telescope performs best on a high
    mountaintopwhere the air is thin and steady.

The Powers of a Telescope
  • However, even at good sites, atmospheric
    turbulence spreads star images into blobs 0.5 to
    1 arc seconds in diameter.
  • That situation can be improved by a difficult and
    expensive technique called adaptive optics.
  • By this technique, rapid computer calculations
    adjust the telescope optics and partly compensate
    for seeing distortions.

The Powers of a Telescope
  • This limitation on the amount of information in
    an image is related to the limitation on the
    accuracy of a measurement.
  • All measurements have some built-in uncertainty,
    and scientists must learn to work within those
    limitations. a focal length of 14 mm has a
    magnifying power of 503.

The Powers of a Telescope
  • Higher magnifying power does not necessarily show
    you more detail.
  • The amount of detail you can see in practice is
    limited by a combination of the seeing conditions
    and the telescopes resolving power and optical

The Powers of a Telescope
  • A telescopes primary function is to gather light
    and thus make faint things appear brighter,
  • so the light-gathering power is the most
    important power and the diameter of the telescope
    is its most important characteristic.
  • Light-gathering power and resolving power are
    fundamental properties of a telescope that cannot
    be altered,
  • whereas magnifying power can be changed simply by
    changing the eyepiece.

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • Most major observatories are located far from big
    cities and usually on high mountains.

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • Optical astronomers avoid cities because light
    pollutionthe brightening of the night sky by
    light scattered from artificial outdoor
    lightingcan make it impossible to see faint
  • In fact, many residents of cities are unfamiliar
    with the beauty of the night sky because they can
    see only the brightest stars.

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • Radio astronomers face a problem of radio
    interference analogous to light pollution.
  • Weak radio signals from the cosmos are easily
    drowned out by human radio interferenceeverything
    from automobiles with faulty ignition systems to
    poorly designed transmitters in communication.

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • To avoid that, radio astronomers locate their
    telescopes as far from civilization as possible.
  • Hidden deep in mountain valleys, they are able to
    listen to the sky protected from human-made radio

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • As you learned previously, astronomers prefer to
    place optical telescopes on mountains because the
    air there is thin and more transparent.
  • Most important, though, they carefully select
    mountains where the airflow is usually not
    turbulentso the seeing is good.

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • Building an observatory on top of a high mountain
    far from civilization is difficult and expensive.
  • However, the dark sky and good seeing make it
    worth the effort.

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • There are two important points to notice about
    modern astronomical telescopes.

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • One, research telescopes must focus their light
    to positions at which cameras and other
    instruments can be placed.

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • Two, small telescopes can use other focal
    arrangements that would be inconvenient in larger

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • Telescopes located on the surface of Earth,
    whether optical or radio, must move continuously
    to stay pointed at a celestial object as Earth
    turns on its axis.
  • This is called sidereal tracking (sidereal
    refers to the stars).

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • The days when astronomers worked beside their
    telescopes through long, dark, cold nights are
    nearly gone.
  • The complexity and sophistication of telescopes
    require a battery of computers, and almost all
    research telescopes are run from warm control

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • High-speed computers have allowed astronomers to
    build new, giant telescopes with unique designs.
  • The European Southern Observatory has built the
    Very Large Telescope (VLT) high in the remote
    Andes Mountains of northern Chile.

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • The VLT actually consists of four telescopes,
    each with a computer-controlled mirror 8.2 m in
    diameter and only 17.5 cm (6.9 in.) thick.
  • The four telescopes can work singly or can
    combine their light to work as one large

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • Italian and American astronomers have built the
    Large Binocular Telescope, which carries a pair
    of 8.4-m mirrors on a single mounting.

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • The Gran Telescopio Canarias, located atop a
    volcanic peak in the Canary Islands, carries a
    segmented mirror 10.4 meters in diameter.
  • It holds, for the moment, the record as the
    largest single telescope in the world.
  • Other giant telescopes are being planned with
    innovative designs.

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • The largest fully steerable radio telescope in
    the world is at the National Radio Astronomy
    Observatory in West Virginia.
  • The telescope has a reflecting surface 100 meters
    in diameter made of 2,004 computer-controlled
    panels that adjust to maintain the shape of the
    reflecting surface.

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • The largest radio dish in the world is 300 m
    (1,000 ft) in diameter, and is built into a
    mountain valley in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.
  • The antenna hangs on cables above the dish, and,
    by moving the antenna, astronomers can point the
    telescope at any object that passes within 20
    degrees of the zenith as Earth rotates.

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • The Very Large Array (VLA) consists of 27 dishes
    spread in a Y-pattern across the New Mexico
  • Operated as an interferometer, the VLA has the
    resolving power of a radio telescope up to 36 km
    (22 mi) in diameter.

Observatories on EarthOptical and Radio
  • Such arrays are very powerful, and radio
    astronomers are now planning the Square Kilometer
  • It will consist of radio dishes spanning 6,000 km
    (almost 4,000 mi) and having a total collecting
    area of one square kilometer.

Astronomical Instruments and Techniques
  • Just looking through a telescope doesnt tell you
  • To learn about planets, stars, and galaxies, you
    must be able to analyze the light the telescope
  • Special instruments attached to the telescope
    make that possible.

Imaging Systems and Photometers
  • The photographic plate was the first
    image-recording device used with telescopes.
  • Brightness of objects imaged on a photographic
    plate can be measured with a lot of hard
    workyielding only moderate precision.

Imaging Systems and Photometers
  • Astronomers also build photometers.
  • These are sensitive light meters that can be used
    to measure the brightness of individual objects
    very precisely.

Imaging Systems and Photometers
  • Most modern astronomers use charge-coupled
    devices (CCDs) as both image-recording devices
    and photometers.
  • A CCD is a specialized computer chip containing
    as many as a million or more microscopic light
    detectors arranged in an array about the size of
    a postage stamp.
  • These array detectors can be used like a small
    photographic plate.

Imaging Systems and Photometers
  • CCDs have dramatic advantages over both
    photometers and photographic plates.
  • They can detect both bright and faint objects in
    a single exposure and are much more sensitive
    than a photographic plate.
  • CCD images are digitizedconverted to numerical
    dataand can be read directly into a computer
    memory for later analysis.

Imaging Systems and Photometers
  • Although CCDs for astronomy are extremely
    sensitive and thus expensive, less sophisticated
    CCDs are now used in commercial video and digital
  • Infrared astronomers use array detectors similar
    in operation to optical CCDs.
  • At other wavelengths, photometers are still used
    for measuring brightness of celestial objects.

Imaging Systems and Photometers
  • The digital data representing an image from a CCD
    or other array detector are easy to manipulateto
    bring out details that would not otherwise be

Imaging Systems and Photometers
  • For example, astronomical images are often
    reproduced as negativeswith the sky white and
    the stars dark.
  • This makes the faint parts of the image easier to

Imaging Systems and Photometers
  • Astronomers also manipulate images to produce
    false-color images.
  • The colors represent different levels of
    intensity and are not related to the true colors
    of the object.

Imaging Systems and Photometers
  • For example, humans cant see radio waves.
  • So, astronomers must convert them into something

Imaging Systems and Photometers
  • One way is to measure the strength of the radio
    signal at various places in the sky and draw a
    map in which contours mark areas of uniform radio

Imaging Systems and Photometers
  • Compare such a map to a seating diagram for a
    baseball stadium in which the contours mark areas
    in which the seats have the same price.

Imaging Systems and Photometers
  • Contour maps are very common in radio astronomy
    and are often reproduced using false colors.

  • To analyze light in detail, you need to spread
    the light out according to wavelength into a
    spectruma task performed by a spectrograph.
  • You can understand how this works by reproducing
    an experiment performed by Isaac Newton in 1666.

  • Boring a hole in his window shutter, Newton
    admitted a thin beam of sunlight into his
    darkened bedroom.
  • When he placed a prism in the beam, the sunlight
    spread into a beautiful spectrum on the far wall.
  • From this, Newton concluded that white light was
    made of a mixture of all the colors.

  • Newton didnt think in terms of wavelength.
  • You, however, can use that modern concept to see
    that the light passing through the prism is bent
    at an angle that depends on the wavelength.
  • Violet (short- wavelength) light bends most,
    and red (long wavelength) light least.

  • Thus, the white light entering the prism is
    spread into what is called a spectrum.

  • A typical prism spectrograph contains more than
    one prism to spread the spectrum wider.
  • Also, it has lenses to guide the light into the
    prism and to focus the light onto a photographic

  • Most modern spectrographs use a grating in place
    of a prism.
  • A grating is a piece of glass with thousands of
    microscopic parallel lines scribed onto its
  • Different wavelengths of light reflect from the
    grating at slightly different angles.
  • So, white light is spread into a spectrum and can
    be recordedoften by a CCD camera.

  • Recording the spectrum of a faint star or galaxy
    can require a long time exposure.
  • So, astronomers have developed multiobject
    spectrographs that can record the spectra of as
    many as 100 objects simultaneously.
  • Multiobject spectrographs automated by computers
    have made large surveys of many thousands of
    stars or galaxies possible.

  • As astronomers understand how light interacts
    with matter, a spectrum carries a tremendous
    amount of information.
  • That makes a spectrograph the astronomers most
    powerful instrument.
  • Astronomers are likely to remark, We dont know
    anything about an object until we get a
  • That is only a slight exaggeration.

Airborne and Space Observatories
  • You have learned about the observations that
    groundbased telescopes can make through the two
    atmospheric windows in the visible and radio
    parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Airborne and Space Observatories
  • Most of the rest of the spectruminfrared,
    ultraviolet, X-ray, and gamma-ray radiationnever
    reaches Earths surface.
  • To observe at these wavelengths, telescopes must
    fly above the atmosphere in high-flying aircraft,
    rockets, balloons, and satellites.

Airborne and Space Observatories
  • The only exceptions are observations that can be
    made in what are called the near-infrared and the
    near-ultravioletalmost the same wavelengths as
    visible light.

The Ends of the Visual Spectrum
  • Astronomers can observe from the ground in the
    near-infrared just beyond the red end of the
    visible spectrum.
  • This is because some of this radiation leaks
    through the atmosphere in narrow, partially open
    atmospheric windows ranging in wavelength from
    1,200 nm to about 30,000 nm.

The Ends of the Visual Spectrum
  • Infrared astronomers usually describe wavelengths
    in micrometers or microns (10-6 m).
  • So, they refer to this wavelength range as 1.2 to
    30 microns.

The Ends of the Visual Spectrum
  • In this range, most of the radiation is absorbed
    by water vapor, carbon dioxide, or ozone
    molecules in Earths atmosphere.
  • Thus, it is an advantage to place telescopes on
    the highest mountains where the air is especially
    thin and dry.

The Ends of the Visual Spectrum
  • For example, a number of important infrared
    telescopes are located on the summit of Mauna Kea
    in Hawaiiat an altitude of 4,200 m (13,800 ft).

The Ends of the Visual Spectrum
  • The far-infrared range, which includes
    wavelengths longer than 30 micrometers, can
    inform you about planets, comets, forming stars,
    and other cool objects.

The Ends of the Visual Spectrum
  • However, these wavelengths are absorbed high in
    the atmosphere.
  • To observe in the far-infrared, telescopes must
    venture to high altitudes.

The Ends of the Visual Spectrum
  • Remotely operated infrared telescopes suspended
    under balloons have reached altitudes as high as
    41 km (25 mi).

The Ends of the Visual Spectrum
  • For many years, the NASA Kuiper Airborne
    Observatory (KAO) carried a 91-cm infrared
    telescope and crews of astronomers to altitudes
    of over 12 km (40,000 ft).
  • This was in order to get above 99 percent or more
    of the water vapor in Earths atmosphere.

The Ends of the Visual Spectrum
  • Now retired from service, the KAO will soon be
    replaced by the Stratospheric Observatory for
    Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
  • This is a Boeing 747-P aircraft that will carry a
    2.5-m (100-in.) telescope to the fringes of the

The Ends of the Visual Spectrum
  • If a telescope observes at far-infrared
    wavelengths, then it must be cooled.
  • Infrared radiation is emitted by heated objects.
  • If the telescope is warm, it will emit many times
    more infrared radiation than that coming from a
    distant object.
  • Imagine trying to look at a dim, moonlit scene
    through binoculars that are glowing brightly.

The Ends of the Visual Spectrum
  • In a telescope observing near-infrared radiation,
    only the detectorthe element on which the
    infrared radiation is focusedmust be cooled.
  • To observe in the far-infrared, however, the
    entire telescope must be cooled.

The Ends of the Visual Spectrum
  • At the short-wavelength end of the spectrum,
    astronomers can observe in the near-ultraviolet.
  • Human eyes do not detect this radiation, but it
    can be recorded by photographic plates and CCDs.

The Ends of the Visual Spectrum
  • Wavelengths shorter than about 290 nmthe
    far-ultraviolet, X-ray, and gamma-ray rangesare
    completely absorbed by the ozone layer extending
    from 20 km to about 40 km above Earths surface.

The Ends of the Visual Spectrum
  • No mountain is that high, and no balloon or
    airplane can fly that high.
  • So, astronomers cannot observe far-UV, X-ray, and
    gamma-ray radiationwithout going into space.

Telescopes in Space
  • Telescopes that observe in the far-infrared must
    be protected from heat and must get above Earths
    absorbing atmosphere.
  • They have limited lifetimes because they must
    carry coolant to chill their optics.

Telescopes in Space
  • The most sophisticated of the infrared
    telescopes put in orbit, the Spitzer Space
    Telescope was cooled to 269C (452F).

Telescopes in Space
  • Launched in 2003, it observes from behind a
  • In fact, it could not observe from Earths orbit
    because Earth is such a strong source of infrared
  • so the telescope was sent into an orbit around
    the sun that carried it slowly away from Earth.

Telescopes in Space
  • Named after theoretical physicist Lyman Spitzer
    Jr., it has made important discoveries concerning
    star formation, planets orbiting other stars,
    distant galaxies, and more.
  • Its coolant ran out in 2009, but some of the
    instruments that can operate without being
    chilled continue to collect data.

Telescopes in Space
  • High-energy astrophysics refers to the use of
    X-ray and gamma-ray observations of the sky.
  • Making such observations is difficult but can
    reveal the secrets of processes such as the
    collapse of massive stars and eruptions of
    supermassive black holes.

Telescopes in Space
  • The largest X-ray telescope to date, the Chandra
    X-ray Observatory, was launched in 1999 and
    orbits a third of the way to the moon.
  • Chandra is named for the late Indian-American
    Nobel Laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, who
    was a pioneer in many branches of theoretical

Telescopes in Space
  • Focusing X rays is difficult because they
    penetrate into most mirrors, so astronomers
    devised cylindrical mirrors in which the X rays
    reflect from the polished inside of the cylinders
    and form images on special detectors.

Telescopes in Space
  • The telescope has made important discoveries
    about everything from star formation to monster
    black holes in distant galaxies.

Telescopes in Space
  • One of the first gamma-ray observatories was the
    Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, launched in 1991.
  • It mapped the entire sky at gamma-ray

Telescopes in Space
  • The European INTEGRAL satellite was launched in
    2002 and has been very productive in the study of
    violent eruptions of stars and black holes.

Telescopes in Space
  • The GLAST (Gamma-Ray Large Area Space Telescope),
    launched in 2008, is capable of mapping large
    areas of the sky to high sensitivity.

Telescopes in Space
  • Modern astronomy has come to depend on
    observations that cover the entire
    electromagnetic spectrum.
  • More orbiting space telescopes are planned that
    will be more versatile and more sensitive.