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Types of Telescopes: Radio, Reflecting & Refracting Telescopes

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  • 0:06 Different Telescopes
  • 1:02 Radio
  • 1:47 X-Ray and Gamma Ray
  • 2:22 Reflector
  • 3:22 Refractor
  • 4:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Meyers

Amy holds a Master of Science. She has taught science at the high school and college levels.

Learn about the different types of telescopes that astronomers use: X-ray, radio, gamma ray, reflecting and refracting. Learn what the differences are between them and what different things they show us about the universe.

Why Are There Different Types of Telescopes?

Our solar system is an exciting and vibrant space filled with planets, asteroids, comets, black holes, quasars and other wonderful things. Scientists have studied the stars for centuries, discovering new objects and refining their thinking about old ones.

Astronomers use a variety of telescopes to look at the universe. They need many different types of telescopes to look at space because each telescope shows them different things.

Light comes in wavelengths from short to long. Visible light, the light humans see, is in the middle of the range. Short wavelengths include gamma rays and X-rays. Longer wavelengths include microwaves and radio waves. Most amateur astronomers use optical telescopes, either reflectors or refractors that use light in the visible wave range to show objects.

However, most astronomical research is done on telescopes that look at other wavelengths of light because each wavelength shows something different about the universe.

Radio

It is a bit surprising, but it turns out that objects in space give off radio noise, which just means they emit waves in the radio range of the light spectrum. Radio telescopes look at very long wavelengths of light and convert these waves into pictures.

Radio telescopes collect long-wavelength light to investigate diverse things. Radio telescopes are usually large, dish-type antennas. Scientists build them far away from populous areas to avoid interference from radio and TV. Radio telescopes look at very long wavelength light. You can see many diverse things with radio telescopes. For example, you can investigate how hydrogen gas is distributed in our galaxy and other galaxies, and you can time the rotation period of pulsars.

Radio telescopes convert long wavelengths into pictures.
Radio Telescope Picture

X-Ray and Gamma Ray

X-Ray and gamma ray telescopes collect light in the shorter wavelengths. X-ray telescopes help astronomers study the sun, supernova and other stars, while the gamma ray telescopes study supernovas, pulsars and black holes.

X-ray and gamma ray telescopes don't work well on Earth's surface because the short wavelengths get disrupted and weaken in the atmosphere, so scientists like to put these types of telescopes in space where atmosphere is not a problem. X-ray and gamma ray telescopes collect very short wavelength light to see the sun, stars and supernovas.

Reflector

A type of telescope used in most astronomy research is a reflecting telescope. Reflector telescopes use one mirror, or a combination of mirrors, to reflect light and form an image to the viewer. The design of this telescope allows astronomers to see things way out in space that don't emit much light. Almost all of the major telescopes used in astronomy research are reflectors.

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