Astronomical Observations

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Today astronomers have tools to observe and analyze all forms of electromagnetic radiation from space. The main function of a telescope—whatever type of radiation is being detected—is to gather sufficient radiation for analysis.

Earth's atmosphere stops most radiation from space and permits only certain wavelengths to shine through to telescopes on the ground. Ground-based astronomers look out at the universe through two atmospheric windows, or spectral ranges within which air is largely transparent to radiation. These are the optical/visible light including some infrared, and radio windows.

An astronomical observatory is a place equipped for the observation of sky objects. For ground-based observations, astronomers choose dark sites where the air is dry, thin, and steady, on mountaintops far from city lights and pollution (Figure 2.6).

Figure 2.6. Mauna Kea, a 4200-m (13,800-ft.)-high site on the Island of Hawaii, U.S., hosts the world's largest group of optical, infrared, and submillimeter telescopes. Mauna Kea Visitors Information Station ►http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/vis^ is at 3000 m (9200 ft.).

Figure 2.6. Mauna Kea, a 4200-m (13,800-ft.)-high site on the Island of Hawaii, U.S., hosts the world's largest group of optical, infrared, and submillimeter telescopes. Mauna Kea Visitors Information Station ►http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/vis^ is at 3000 m (9200 ft.).

What would you suggest to astronomers who want to observe the universe in the gamma ray, X-ray, and ultraviolet ranges?_

Answer: Locate their instruments beyond Earth's atmosphere. Space age technology makes space-based observations in these wavelength bands possible from rockets, spacecraft, or even Moon-based observing stations.

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