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More Space Astronomy

December 9, 2015

For astronomers, looking at the universe through Earth’s atmosphere is like a diver looking at what’s on the ocean surface from a depth of many feet. Just as the ripples on the water distort the view of what’s above, ripples and currents in the atmosphere distort the view of what’s beyond our planet.

You can see this effect by watching the stars twinkle. It’s beautiful to watch. But through a telescope, that twinkling blurs the view of stars, galaxies, and other objects.

What’s more, Earth’s atmosphere absorbs most forms of energy. Yet those wavelengths carry important details about the objects that created them.

The only way to see those forms of energy — and to sharpen the view of the universe — is to climb. For more than a century, for example, astronomers have been placing their telescopes on mountains — the taller the better. That sharpens the view, and lets some wavelengths of energy leak through.

But the best view of all comes from space. And over the decades, space agencies have launched dozens of space telescopes. Hubble is the most famous, but the list includes craft that have probed every wavelength, across the entire celestial sphere.

And even more space telescopes are on the way. The James Webb telescope is designed to see the earliest galaxies, and perhaps some of the very first individual stars. Other telescopes may photograph planets orbiting other stars — clear views from above our planet’s “ocean” of air.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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