Astronomers use telescopes, satellites, space probes, and spectroscopes to make observations and collect data about objects inside the solar system and outside the solar system. These tools and the associated technology that allow astronomers to analyze and interpret the data help scientists learn about the solar system and about the universe.
- Refractor telescopes use convex lenses to bend and focus light rays to produce images of objects in space.
- Reflector telescopes use mirrors to focus light rays to produce images of objects in space.
- Radio telescopes receive radio waves emitted from objects in space, including waves from very distant stars and galaxies. Then the radio waves are used to produce images of the objects from sound waves. Radio telescopes receive information in any weather and during day or night.
- Other telescopes “read” infrared or x-ray signals but have to be placed where Earth’s atmosphere does not block or absorb the signals.
- Satellites are placed in orbit around Earth with special instruments and telescopes that collect information from space. The information is sent back to Earth where it is interpreted.
- Space Observatories are telescopes or other instruments that have been launched into outer space to collect data on distant planets, galaxies, and other celestial bodies. The Hubble Space Telescope is an example of a space observatory.
- Data gathered from satellites and space observatories are not hampered by Earth’s atmosphere.
- Space probes contain instruments to collect data and travel out of Earth’s orbit to explore places that would be too dangerous for astronomers; the instruments that a probe contains depends upon the space mission.
- Spectroscopes collect the light from distant stars and separate that light into bands of different colors; by studying these bands, astronomers identify the elements in a star.