Resolution and light gathering power

Amateur telescopes are often advertised as having a certain "power," although that is like advertising a car based on the size of its gas tank. Light gathering power, resolving power, and field of view are the three quantities that determine how a telescope will perform. Light gathering power is the area of the main lens or mirror of the telescope. The bigger the area, the more photons a telescope can collect. The pupils of your eyes open wide at night, to capture as much light as possible; in just the same way, bigger telescopes are used to see fainter objects. Moreover, the bigger the telescope, the closer two objects can be to each other and still be seen as separate; this is the theoretical resolving power. In practice, the resolving power of most professional telescopes has in the past been limited by turbulence in the air - the familiar twinkling of stars - though adaptive optics is now changing that for most of the larger telescopes. The field of view of a telescope is the amount of sky it can look at, at one time. In general, the bigger the telescope, the smaller that area of sky is.

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Telescopes Mastery

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