Mysteries: Solved, Planets Found

In recent space news, one of NASA’s telescopes discovered 7 planets that have habitable potential. These planets are projected to have liquid water which is regarded by scientists as the key to life as we know it. In accordance to a class lecture we had on telescopes, I wanted to celebrate this astonishing find by highlighting my understanding of how telescopes work in order to discover such wonders.

Spitzer space telescope.jpg

In class, we discovered how telescopes make precise observations that would be rather impossible to make with the naked eye. To begin with, telescopes are high power instruments used in order to see distances and discern objects at a distance that would be inaccessible to the naked eye. Telescopes measure light in all wavelengths in order to collect data for scientific analysis. They are defined by their light collecting area (which tells us how much light a telescope can collect at a time) and their angular resolution (which tells us the smallest angle at which it can distinguish between 2 stars). The size of a telescope is generally referred to by the diameter of its light collecting area, which could be anywhere between small, hand-held 42 mm to as large as 10 meters in diameter. The larger the light collecting area, the more light a telescope can collect, meaning the more potential stars can be seen (if the exposure and angular resolution allow it).

There are two basic types of telescopes: refracting and reflecting. A refracting telescope uses glass lenses to collect and focus light, while a reflecting telescope uses a primary mirror to bend light to another secondary mirror that then reflects it to the focus point to be observed. Reflecting telescopes are most commonly used in research.  Also, telescopes are both used in space and on our planet. The telescope used in the discovery of these 7 planets mentioned in the article is a extraterrestrial telescope, and while the article does not give understanding on what kind of telescope it is, I can infer that it is a reflecting telescope. Scientists have discovered that Earth’s atmosphere tends to blur light or block certain rays from making their way into our atmosphere, so for precise light ray measurements, space telescopes can be used. However, for general observations of the night sky, telescopes on Earth work just fine.

As a child, I have always been fascinated by the night sky and wished to have a telescope. After traveling to planetariums downtown and a few in Poland, I looked upon those large contraption as concepts I could never fully understand. Nonetheless, here I am now, understanding how they work and hoping to make some discoveries of my own. Because of this class I can not only confidently understand how to read the sky, but also know how my instrument works as well.

Source: NASA

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