Learning never exhausts the mind

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Our view from Earth has always been pretty good, aside from clouds and glare. It was transformed by telescopes in the 1600s, though, and has improved wildly ever since. From X-ray telescopes to the atmosphere-bypassing Hubble Space Telescope, it's hard to even believe what we can see now.

Advanced telescopes have opened our eyes to the universe. While Galileo's small looking glass was capable of magnifying objects about 20 to 30 times, today astronomers employ enormous optical telescopes to gather space's visible light, as well as telescopes capable of measuring radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum - from gamma rays emitted by pulsars to long radio waves from the deepest regions of space. Telescopes have also helped us understand gravity and other fundamental laws of the physical world. Telescopes have also helped us understand the light that radiates from the sun and other stars.

Today's best telescopes are astounding feats - and astronomers are improving them constantly.

Let's have a look at 5 advanced telescopes that have (or will) give different perspectives of space.

Hubble Space Telescope

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope provides evidence of billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars like our sun. At 20 years old, Hubble runs on some old-school computing technology, including a relatively ancient Intel 486 processor. Despite this, Hubble has imaged many iconic images such as the deep field, Crab Nebula and Eagle Nebula, Hubble has become the world's most famous telescope. The last servicing mission has extended its life until 2020 when it is expected to be retired and the James Webb Space Telescope takes over.

James Webb Space Telescope

The next advanced telescopes to look at is the James Webb Space Telescope which will be the successor to Hubble. After almost two decades in space, Hubble is sadly approaching the end of its life. JWST won't be exactly the same - Hubble observes primarily the visible light range, while the James Webb's instruments focus mostly on infrared.

James Webb Space Telescope

James Webb Space Telescope

Northrop Grumman

By looking at the longer infrared wavelengths, the James Webb Space Telescope will be able to look much closer to the beginning of time and to hunt for the unobserved formation of the first galaxies as well as to looking inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today.

Arecibo Radio Telescope

The largest operational radio telescope in the world is the Arecibo telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Though radio telescopes have been used since the 1930s, Arecibo has been instrumental in astronomical discoveries since 1960. Developed and operated by Cornell University, radio telescopes are now very valuable tools in observing objects that we are unable to see with ordinary telescopes.

Airplane View of the Arecibo Observatory

Airplane View of the Arecibo Observatory

National Science Foundation

In 1989, the Arecibo telescope picked up an asteroid known as 4769 Castalia. Asteroids had been discovered long before radio telescopes, but this was the first time scientists used technology to create an image of what the asteroid looked like.

Arecibo has also been instrumental in discovering exoplanets, detecting gravity waves, analysing the orbit of Mercury and much more.

Thirty Meter Telescope (Hawaii)

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is currently under construction. It is a new class of extremely large telescopes that will allow us to see deeper into space and observe cosmic objects with unprecedented sensitivity.

Artists concept of the Thirty Meter Telescope

Artists concept of the Thirty Meter Telescope


With its 30 m prime mirror diameter, TMT will be three times as wide, with nine times more area, than the largest currently existing visible-light telescope in the world. This will provide unparalleled resolution with TMT images more than 12 times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope. When operational, TMT will provide new observational opportunities in essentially every field of astronomy and astrophysics. Observing in wavelengths ranging from the ultraviolet to the mid-infrared, this unique instrument will allow astronomers to address fundamental questions in astronomy ranging from understanding star and planet formation to unravelling the history of galaxies and the development of large-scale structure in the universe.

Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (China)

Our final advanced telescopes is the Chinese built Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) which is a monster. IT has a dish 500 meters across making this behemoth the largest filled-in, single-dish radio telescope in the world. With an area equal to 30 soccer fields, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier could easily float in the 500-meter FAST radio telescope's dish from bow to stern, with room to spare.

The completed Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) as seen from the air.

The completed Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) as seen from the air.

Chinese Academy of Sciences

FAST radio telescope is located in southwestern China in the sparsely populated Guizhou Province. Like Arecibo, the radio telescope was built inside a natural depression in the limestone-dominated terrain, and it uses mountainous karst features surrounding the observatory to block out radio interference.

FAST will probe the universe at radio wavelengths, hunting for faint pulsars, mapping neutral hydrogen in distant galaxies, and searching for signs of extraterrestrial communications and intelligence. The radio telescope is in an extensive commissioning phase.

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