Men and women have looked up at the sky and wondered about the things they see up there for as long as humans have lived on our Earth. Long ago, the Sun and Moon were mysterious objects that could be seen in the day and night. But the planets and stars were even more mysterious probably because they are so far away that we could only see them as points of light. Unlike the things on the Earth that we can study up close, handle, listen to, smell, and taste, the only thing ancient watchers of the sky had to learn about things in space was their eyes and imaginations. Only very recently in the history of humanity have astronomers been able to extend the reach of our eyes (and our imaginations!).
Galileo pioneered modern explorations in the early 1600's by using a device originally invented for naval operations to explore the heavens. The device he used, of course, was the telescope, an instrument used to gather and focus light. Our atmosphere prevents most of the electromagnetic radiation from reaching the ground, allowing just the visible band, parts of the radio band, and small fractions of the infrared and ultraviolet through. Our eyes can detect the visible (optical) band, so the early telescopes were all built to observe in that part of the electromagnetic spectrum. It wasn't until the 1930's that astronomers began observing with another part of the electromagnetic spectrum---the radio band. The development of space technology has enabled astronomers to put telescopes above the atmosphere and explore all of those places out there using the full range of the electromagnetic spectrum. This chapter covers the basics of telescopes and the effects of the atmosphere on images. Vocabulary terms are in boldface.
Go to next section
last updated: 20 May 2001