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Research time is in great demand, so astronomers do not sit at giant telescopes and simply stargaze. Instead, observers usually look at a computer display! Starlight, directly or after passing through electronic imaging systems, is recorded for exhaustive study later by many scientists and for obtaining pictures. Powerful computers are vital to the acquisition, archiving, processing, and analysis of astronomical data today.

A charge coupled device (CCD) is a popular electronic detector. The CCD is a silicon chip of tiny, light-sensitive elements that turns starlight into electric pulses for computers and advanced image processing and display equipment. CCDs are much more sensitive to light than photographic film, and they can record bright and faint objects simultaneously.

Often an instrument called a spectrograph is attached to the telescope. Starlight is not a single color but rather a mixture of colors, or wavelengths (Figure 2.16). Astronomers deduce much information about stars from these separate wavelengths, as you will see in Chapter 3.

Figure 2.16. You can produce a spectrum from sunlight (starlight). Place a mirror in a pan of water so that it is under the water and leaning against the side of the pan. Position the pan in bright sunlight so that the Sun shines on the mirror. Move the mirror slightly until you see a spectrum on the ceiling or wall.

Spectrum

Spectrum

Figure 2.16. You can produce a spectrum from sunlight (starlight). Place a mirror in a pan of water so that it is under the water and leaning against the side of the pan. Position the pan in bright sunlight so that the Sun shines on the mirror. Move the mirror slightly until you see a spectrum on the ceiling or wall.

A spectroscope separates starlight into its component wavelengths for viewing. Starlight enters the spectroscope through a narrow slit and goes through a collimating lens, which produces a beam of parallel rays of light. A prism or grating disperses this light into its separate colors (wavelengths). This spectrum is recorded in a spectrograph.

What is the purpose of a spectrograph?_

Answer: To separate and record the individual wavelengths in a beam of light.

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