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Space Telescope

artificial satellite, small satellites, Hubble Space Telescope, gamma rays, manned spacecraft

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Space Telescope, telescope or other astronomical detector mounted on an artificial satellite, a manned spacecraft, or another device outside Earth's atmosphere. The best-known and most famous space telescope is the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), in Earth orbit since 1990. Dozens of other space telescopes have been launched since the 1960s to study galaxies, stars, planets, and other objects and phenomena in space.

Observations made by telescopes in space have helped revolutionize our view of the universe, making major contributions to astronomy, physics and astrophysics, planetary sciences, and cosmology. With advancing technologies, the capabilities of new space telescopes continue to improve. At the same time new ground-based telescopes also become more sensitive and more powerful, sometimes equaling or exceeding results from earlier space telescopes.

Space telescopes have several advantages over Earth-based telescopes. Telescopes in space offer a much clearer view of astronomical objects because their instruments are far above Earth’s turbulent, distorting atmosphere. Telescopes in space are free from light pollution, artificially generated light that makes it difficult to observe faint astronomical objects. Space telescopes also can cover the entire celestial sphere, whereas portions of the sky may not be accessible to stationary ground-based telescopes, depending on their location on Earth.

Space telescopes also are not limited to observing the narrow band of light that is visible to the eye. Instead they have access to the entire electromagnetic spectrum, including infrared light, ultraviolet light, X rays, and gamma rays. The atmosphere entirely blocks some portions of the spectrum from reaching the ground, so satellites that can detect radiation from those portions offer new windows onto the universe that carry a wealth of information about planets, stars, and galaxies, and also the processes that shape them. Phenomena such as active galaxies and black holes cannot be fully understood without comparing data from across the electromagnetic spectrum.

Space telescopes range in complexity from small satellites, which often survey the entire sky, to larger “observatory-class” satellites, which can target particular objects. These larger satellites generally require more intensive control from scientists on the ground, who choose objects to be studied and help point the satellites in the correct direction.

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