Telescopes from the Ground Up

Computers make radio arrays possible. Computers process the signals from the many dishes and combine them into one signal. The technique of combining the signals from several telescopes is called interferometry. Astronomers use the same method to combine the light from visible-light telescopes on the ground and will eventually be able to do the same thing with telescopes in space.

Get to the root of it

Before the development of radio astronomy, scientists studied celestial objects only in visible light. However, visible light makes up only a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays. It was as though all this time astronomers had been looking at a painting while being able to see only a fraction of its colors. Radio waves filled in one of the missing parts of the picture.

If radio telescopes could give a more complete picture of the cosmos, what could astronomers learn if they found a way to make telescopes detect other forms of invisible radiation? Radio telescopes paved the way for telescopes that would allow astronomers to study the whole range of the electromagnetic spectrum, both visible and invisible.

In a nutshell...

The discovery of radio waves from space launched a new branch of study: radio astronomy. This spurred astronomers to develop new techniques to accommodate the large size of radio waves.

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