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151.Telescopes

151.Telescopes

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1
Telescopes
www.curriculum-press.co.ukNumber 151
 F actsheetP hysics
When we think of telescopes, we automatically think of opticaltelescopes (sensitive to the visible light region of theelectromagnetic spectrum). And if we have a special interest inastronomy, we may also consider radio telescopes (sensitive to theradio region of the spectrum).However sources in the universe emit signals across almost all of the electromagnetic spectrum, and information can be gained fromstudying the whole spectrum. The reason for limiting most of ourstudies to these two regions has to do with our atmosphere.
Atmospheric Windows
Much of the electromagnetic radiation approaching the Earth isabsorbed by the atmosphere.
AtmosphericabsorptionGammaraysX-raysUVvisiblelightIRRadiowaves
Only visible light and radio wavelengths can penetrate theatmosphere to any extent. So historically these are the two regionsof the e.m. spectrum that we tend to study the most. However, withour ability to put objects into orbit (more-or-less above theatmosphere), and to control these objects and communicate withthem, it is now possible to extend our study across the spectrum.
The placement of a telescope is very dependent on theeffect of the atmosphere on the range of wavelengths for whichthe telescope is designed to work.
In this factsheet we are going to survey briefly the different typesof telescope we can use today and for each telescope study someof the following points:
the reason for looking at each region of the spectrum
the type of telescope used
where we position the telescope
how it receives and focuses the radiation
the strength and resolution of the final image
what we learn from itWe will start from the high-energy end of the e.m. spectrum.
Gamma ray telescopes
The universe has sources that can generate inconceivable amountsof energy. Black holes, merging neutron stars, high-speed streamsof hot gas, pulsars, and even solar flares, are examples of sources of gamma radiation.Gamma ray telescopes can also be used to study the cosmic raysapproaching the Earth. Cosmic rays are not really rays at all – theyare extremely high-energy particles, originally thought to be e.m.radiation beyond the gamma ray spectrum. When they collide withparticles in the Earth’s atmosphere, gamma rays are emitted. A gammaray telescope on the Earth’s surface can detect these gamma raysusing a set of large reflecting mirrors.However most gamma ray telescopes must be mounted above theEarth’s atmosphere, as gamma rays are absorbed by the atmosphere.The Fermi gamma ray telescope was launched by NASA in 2008.
X-ray telescopes
X-rays are also absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere. X-ray telescopesmust be positioned in space. The XMM-Newton telescope waslaunched by the European Space Agency in 1999. It was intentionallyput into a very elliptical orbit. This means that most of its orbit iswell outside the Earth’s atmosphere, leading to less distorted images.
Example1. Why is the focusing of gamma rays particularlydifficult?
 Answer:
Gamma rays are very penetrating, and tend to travelthrough most materials, rather than reflecting off the surface. Inthe HESS telescope, the reflecting mirror is made of aluminised glass with a quartz coating. This mirror is made of 382 round mirror segments (for cost reasons).
Example2. A gamma ray may have an energy of 1
×××××
10
10
eV. Findits wavelength, and compare the energy to that of a photon in thevisible light region.
 Answer 
(a)E = 1
× 
10
10
 
× 
1.6 
× 
10
-19
= 1.6 
× 
10
-9
 J as E = hf and f = c/ 
λ 
then 
λ 
= hc/E = 1.2
× 
10
-16 
m(b)for visible light,
λ 
= 5
× 
10
-7 
mE = hc/ 
λ 
= 4.0
× 
10
-19
 J 
EarthOrbitLimit of Atmosphere
 
151. Telescopes
Physics Factsheet
2
Example 3 What second effect of the elliptical orbit is useful?
 Answer:
Satellites in elliptical orbits will decelerate as theymove away from the Earth, and then accelerate as they approachthe Earth (due to the Earth’s gravitational field). This meansthey will travel slowest when they are furthest from the Earth,extending the time available for the most accurate image work.
One of the aims of XMM-Newton was to study the X-ray emissionfrom black holes. And astronomers have used XMM-Newton todiscover a new black hole in the intermediate mass range. Theseintermediate mass black holes had been predicted, but none hadbeen observed before.Stellar-mass black holes (three to twenty times as massive as theSun) have been observed, and supermassive black holes (millionsof times as massive as the Sun) have been observed. But this wasthe first detection of an intermediate mass black hole.There are three X-ray telescopes on XMM-Newton. Mirrors areused for focusing the image, but there is a problem with X-raysbeing too penetrative. The mirrors are set up so that the X-raysapproach at a grazing angle of about 30 degrees, to encouragemaximum reflection and minimum penetration by the rays. This isvery different from conventional optical reflecting telescopes.
Ultraviolet telescopes
Once again it is necessary to launch ultraviolet telescopes intospace, to avoid the absorption of the UV rays by the Earth’satmosphere. A particular point of interest for UV observation wasthe study of deuterium in the Universe. A deuterium atom is ahydrogen atom with a neutron as well as a proton in the nucleus.Deuterium was formed in the instant after the Big Bang, but is alsoformed in the interior of stars. However, in stars, the high temperatureconditions persist for a very long time, allowing lighter atoms, likedeuterium, to be converted into heavier elements.Scientists think that as the matter in the Universe is recycled throughthe generation and life cycles of stars, the proportion of deuterium inthe Universe should be decreasing. The study of this was one of theaims of the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (or FUSE) telescope.FUSE was launched by NASA in 1999, and was finallydecommissioned in 2007, when its pointing mechanism failed andcouldn’t be restarted.Ultraviolet light is difficult to work with because there are no mirrorcoatings that work over the whole range. Instead FUSE had fourmirror segments, two with a coating that worked for short UVwavelengths, and two that worked for long UV wavelengths.The UV light focused by FUSE was then separated into its spectrumby a reflection grating. Because of the large number of atomicabsorption and emission lines in the UV spectrum,
FUSE 
enabledmany studies of chemistry and chemical evolution from sourceswithin and beyond our galaxy.
Optical telescopes
Optical telescopes are the ones we are all most familiar with, andyou will have learned a considerable amount about them already.Consequently we will mention them least in this factsheet.Optical telescopes can be positioned on the Earth’s surface, but theatmosphere does cause problems. A certain amount of absorption of visible light takes place in the atmosphere, varying temperatures inthe atmosphere cause refraction leading to distortion, atmosphericpollution causes distortion, light pollution reduces the sharpness of signals, and it has even been known to be occasionally cloudy overthe UK. Observations are also, of course, restricted to night-time.A telescope in space, like the Hubble telescope, can produce far brighterimages, with much less distortion and much better resolution.Optical telescopes can use either mirrors or lenses as their primaryfocusing instrument. However lenses cause
chromatic aberration
(the splitting of the colours), and this is a problem that cannoteasily be overcome. Violet light has a larger index of refraction thanthat of red light, and is focused more quickly.
Amount of deuteriumBig BangToday+-npp+-HydrogenDeuteriumx-rayx-raymirror segmentmirror segmentimagemirrorwhite lightwhite lightvioletred
Example 4. Suggest other problems with large lenses intelescopes.
 Answer:
Large lenses are also much heavier and more difficult to support than mirrors without sagging occurring. (They must be supported at their edges rather than from behind.) Saggingwill change the shape and curvature of the lens so its focal lengthwill change too.
 Exam Hint:-
You should be aware of advantages and disadvantages of mirrors and lenses in telescopes. All of thelarger telescopes use reflection.
 
Physics Factsheet
3
151. Telescopes
Infrared telescopes
The Spitzer infrared telescope was launched by NASA in 2003.(Infrared rays are absorbed by the atmosphere.) This reflectingtelescope has an 85cm diameter mirror, with the recording instrumentscooled to 5.5 Kelvin. The interesting point about its orbit is that itdoes not orbit the Earth. It has been put into orbit about the Sun –we say it is in a trailing orbit behind the Earth.
Example 5. Why might this “trailing orbit” be superior to anorbit about the Earth for an infrared telescope?
 Answer:
The key here is the fact that infrared radiation is heat radiation. To avoid thermal interference the telescope instrumentsmust be kept very cold. However the Earth radiates infrared. Bykeeping the telescope in orbit about the Sun, and using a solar shield to protect it from the Sun’s radiation, the amount of cooling required is very significantly reduced, leading to agreater lifetime for the assembly.
The Spitzer telescope detects infrared radiation from cooler stars thatdon’t emit much visible light, and has also detected the presence of planets in other solar systems from the infrared they are emitting. Inaddition, infrared radiation can penetrate dense gas clouds in spacethat block visible light. The Spitzer telescope enables us to “seethrough” these clouds.Spitzer ran out of its liquid helium coolant on May 15, 2009, and it isnow warming up to the ambient temperature (30K). More research isplanned for the telescope, operating in its “warm” phase.
Microwave telescopes
Microwave radiation is absorbed by water - that is how microwaveovens work. So the water vapour in the atmosphere will absorbincoming microwave radiation.
Example 6. Why is a major microwave telescope sited at the SouthPole?
 Answer:
Very cold air cannot hold much water vapour. Thislimits the ability of the atmosphere at the South Pole to affect theincoming microwaves. See the graph below.
The graph shows how cold air is always very dry. The ability of airto hold water vapour increases rapidly as the temperature rises:
Telescope assemblyEarthsun-10010203040T/ 
o
CmaximumH
2
O(gm
-3
)0204060
Another advantage of positioning the telescope at the South Poleis that the Pole is 2.8km above sea level, so the atmosphere isrelatively thin anyway.The South Pole Telescope (SPT) is a 10-metre reflector, designed tomeasure microwaves of wavelength less than 1mm. The large diameterof the telescope mirror increases the signal received, and improves
resolution
(see the discussion in the Radio Telescope section).
 
The diameter of a telescope affects both the magnitudeof the signal received and the resolution of the image.
The SPT is used to locate distant clusters of galaxies. It uses asophisticated technique involving distortions in the CosmicMicrowave Background that pervades the Universe.
Radio Telescopes
Much of the radio wave spectrum coincides with an atmosphericwindow – radio waves are not absorbed to any significant extent bythe atmosphere. So radio telescopes can be sited on the Earth’ssurface. This allows very large structures to be built. The Lovell radiotelescope near Manchester has a reflector diameter of 76m. This largediameter is very important for improving the
resolution
of sourcesbeing observed.For a circular aperture, two point sources can be observed asseparate, if the angle between them is greater than
θ
, where
θ
is theangular resolution, defined by:sin
θ
= 1.22
λ 
/ Dwhere
λ 
is the wavelength of the incoming radiation, and D is thediameter of the aperture.
Example 7. Find the angular resolution of the Lovell telescopewhen observing radio waves of wavelength 21cm (the hydrogenline).
 Answer:
sin
θ 
= 1.22
× 
21
× 
10
-2
/ 76 = 3.4
× 
10
-3
 ,
θ 
= 0.19 degrees
This is very poor resolution compared to optical telescopes studyingvisible light:
Optical image telescopeRadio image telescope
One way of improving resolution is to electronically link a number of small dishes, effectively increasing the diameter.However this does not significantly improve the total signal strengthreceived, as this depends on the total area of the collector.Radio telescopes can be used to monitor radio communication fromspace probes, etc, and can also be used to study cooler radio sourcesin space, which do not emit shorter wavelength radiation e.g. visiblelight.
D

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