Space Telescopes

StarDate: June 27, 2014

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Hubble Space Telescope may well be the most famous robotic spacecraft ever launched. It’s helped pin down the age of the universe, played a role in the discovery of dark energy, and snapped amazing pictures of many cosmic wonders.

Yet Hubble isn’t the only telescope in space. Dozens have been launched, many of which are in operation today. And even more powerful ones are being planned.

Space telescopes were championed by astronomer Lyman Spitzer, who was born a century ago this week. He headed a team that launched one of the first ones, and after his death, a big space telescope was named in his honor.

Space telescopes have several advantages over those on the ground. One is that they’re above the blurring effects of Earth’s atmosphere. Another is that they can see forms of energy that are blocked by the atmosphere — from the cold glow of the infrared to the sizzle of the ultraviolet and X-rays.

These wavelengths provide important insights into how stars are born and how they die. They reveal the swirls of hot gas around black holes. And they help us understand the “afterglow” of the Big Bang.

The biggest space telescope yet is being built. James Webb Space Telescope will have by far the largest mirror ever sent into space. Among other things, the telescope is designed to see distant galaxies that are hidden from view here on Earth — helping astronomers probe the earliest days of the universe from far out in space.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014

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