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Optical telescopes

50 cm refracting telescope at Nice Observatory.
Main article: Optical telescope

An optical telescope gathers and focuses light mainly from the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum (although some work in the infrared and ultraviolet). Optical telescopes increase the apparent angular size of distant objects as well as their apparent brightness. In order for the image to be observed, photographed, studied, and sent to a computer, telescopes work by employing one or more curved optical elements—usually made from glasslenses, or mirrors to gather light and other electromagnetic radiation to bring that light or radiation to a focal point. Optical telescopes are used for astronomy and in many non-astronomical instruments, including: theodolites (including transits), spotting scopes, monoculars, binoculars, camera lenses, and spyglasses. There are three main types:

Radio telescopes

Main article: Radio telescope
The Very Large Array at Socorro, New Mexico, United States.

Radio telescopes are directional radio antennas that often have a parabolic shape. The dishes are sometimes constructed of a conductive wire mesh whose openings are smaller than the wavelength being observed. Multi-element Radio telescopes are constructed from pairs or larger groups of these dishes to synthesize large 'virtual' apertures that are similar in size to the separation between the telescopes; this process is known as aperture synthesis. As of 2005, the current record array size is many times the width of the Earth—utilizing space-based Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) telescopes such as the Japanese HALCA (Highly Advanced Laboratory for Communications and Astronomy) VSOP (VLBI Space Observatory Program) satellite. Aperture synthesis is now also being applied to optical telescopes using optical interferometers (arrays of optical telescopes) and aperture masking interferometry at single reflecting telescopes. Radio telescopes are also used to collect microwave radiation, which is used to collect radiation when any visible light is obstructed or faint, such as from quasars. Some radio telescopes are used by programs such as SETI and the Arecibo Observatory to search for exterrestrial life. One particularly exciting example is the Wow! signal, recorded in 1977.

X-ray and gamma-ray telescopes

X-ray and gamma-ray radiation go through most metals and glasses, but some X-ray telescopes use Wolter telescopes composed of ring-shaped 'glancing' mirrors made of heavy metals that are able to reflect the rays just a few degrees. The mirrors are usually a section of a rotated parabola and a hyperbola, or ellipse. Gamma-ray telescopes refrain from focusing completely and use coded aperture masks: the patterns of the shadow the mask creates can be reconstructed to form an image. These types of telescopes are usually on Earth-orbiting satellites or high-flying balloons since the Earth's atmosphere is opaque to this part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

A diagram of the electromagnetic spectrum with the Earth's atmospheric transmittance (or opacity) and the types of telescopes used to image parts of the spectrum.

Other types



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