by Karyn Dukes
If you are a person that is interested in astronomy as much as I am, you too have always wondered how astronomers know as much as they do about the earth and our galaxy, the milky way. I can’t get into all of the details, but I know that telescopes play a huge role in the contribution to the knowledge of our galaxy. The advancement of technology used to build telescopes has allowed astronomy to flourish into the field that we know today.
The well known physicist and astronomer Galileo is credited as the first person to point a telescope towards the sky and observe Earth’s moon and the solar system in such a manner. Although these telescopes were fairly simple to construct, they exhibited limiting factors such as their small field of view and the difficulty to find the right type of glass for the lenses. This was in 1609; the images from the telescope were blurry, but they were also useful because they were better than the human eye at making out characteristics of our moon such as its craters and mountains.
Telescopes had a humble beginning, however the telescopes of the twenty first century are much more advanced. They can view the outer reaches of space which would not be possible without the advancement of technology. The telescopes of today use electronic imaging devices. A couple of the telescopes used by astronomers are the active Kepler telescope and the James Webb telescope (to be launched in the next couple of years). Inventions were made and specialized for the function of both of these telescopes. Both are space telescopes, which gives scientists the advantage of clearer pictures of other galaxies and exploding stars.
The Kepler telescope is named after 17th century astronomer Johannes Kepler. Its goal is to discover and explore exoplanets. The mission itself launched in March 2009. Although there have recently been problems with repairing and keeping the telescope in superb condition, program managers have decided to keep Kepler in space and to continue the exploration of exoplanets. Kepler is an optical telescope that is used to search for earth-like planets in habitable zones as they pass in front of their star.
The James Webb is an infrared optical telescope that will be used to search for signs of the early universe. This more recent telescope is named after the NASA administrator who crafted the Apollo program. The mission of the James Webb telescope is to discover the first stars that were formed in the first universe and connect the big bang to our galaxy. The telescope, additionally, attains the mission to explore and discover stars forming planetary systems. The telescope is hopeful to launch in 2018.
Telescopes are essentially the basis of astronomy – without them we wouldn’t know much of the universe. The more they advance, the closer we get to learning if there actually are other forms of life on planets in space.