Science, Technology and Discoveries


Telescope, device that permits distant and faint objects to be viewed as if they were much brighter and closer to the observer. Telescopes are typically used to observe the skies.

For hundreds of years, telescopes were the only instruments available for studying the planets and stars. Even today, space probes can reach only our closest neighbors in the heavens, and scientists continue to rely on telescopes to learn about distant stars, nebulas, and galaxies. Telescopes are the fundamental research instruments that enable astronomers to tackle scientific questions about the birth of the universe (see Big Bang Theory; Cosmology); the emergence of structure in the early universe; the formation and evolution of stars, galaxies, and planetary systems; and the conditions for the emergence of life itself.

Most telescopes work by collecting and magnifying visible light that is given off by stars or reflected from the surface of planets. Such instruments are called optical telescopes. Conventional optical telescopes use a curved lens or mirror to collect light and bring it to a focus, a point in space where all the light rays converge. A small magnifying lens, called an eyepiece, placed at the focus allows the image to be viewed. In astronomical research, cameras or other instruments placed near the focus make a precise recording of the light gathered by a telescope. The visible light collected by a telescope is divided into component wavelengths, or colors, through a process called spectroscopy. This powerful technique, which uses a prism or diffraction grating, essentially “decodes” starlight to yield information about an object’s temperature, motion and other dynamics, chemical composition, and the presence of magnetic fields.