The Atomic Spectrum

Rainbow-Stretching-Hilly-Forest-Mountains.jpg.638x0_q80_crop-smart

Astronomers know that if white light passes through a prism and is bent, it’s separated out into its component colors—the colors of the rainbow.

Astronomers also know that when light interacts with atoms, the building blocks of the universe, the atoms absorb photons of light and reemit them—but in a different direction.

Put these two bits of knowledge together, and astronomers now have everything they need to understand spectra (the plural for spectrum).

spectrum is something I’ve covered in previous posts. In astronomy, it means the wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation spread out so we can analyze them individually. And it’s an astronomer’s most valuable tool.

So, what exactly is a spectrum, and how can we use it to analyze radiation from space and learn more about the universe? Continue reading

Light Pollution

new york light pollution.jpg

This photo was taken at night.

Seriously. At night.

But…it looks too bright for the night. I’ll bet I wouldn’t even have to shine a flashlight to see my way around here.

Need proof? Here’s New York City during the day.

new york daytime.jpg

The lighting comes from the sun. Not the billboards and flashing advertisements.

Who needs that many adverts in their life, anyway?

But I’m not interested in judging New York City…all I want is to make a protest against light pollution.

What is light pollution, anyway? Continue reading

Telescope Powers

e-elt.jpg

Have you seen one of these guys before?

You probably have, even if you don’t recognize this brand-new innovation. This is the European Extremely Large Telescope, or the E-ELT. I know, imaginative name, huh? Anyway, it’s not all that different from one of those white observatory domes you’re used to seeing.

Astronomers keep building new observatories. They keep putting new telescopes into space—Hubble, Spitzer, and James Webb, to name a few. But the common goal of all the telescopes they build is to make telescopes that are as big as possibly possible.

Why? I mean, are astronomers just huge braggarts that like to impress us all with their big toys?

Well…I’ll admit that we astronomers have a lot of fun with our toys. But we need huge telescopes for a much better reason than bragging. Continue reading