Tools of an Astronomer: Radios and Photographs

When it comes to exploring the great unknown in space, an astronomer uses much more than just a telescope. They also use a wide range of concepts and tools to observe and gather data. In this article, you will learn what equips an astronomer with the knowledge and capability of researching the sky, stars and planets.  


In the EM-band, radio waves serve as the longest wavelengths, shortest frequencies, and lowest energy. They come in handy when an astronomer is interested in studying phenomenon that relate to the frequency range of 300GHz to 30MHz. Since the wavelengths of radio waves are rather large, astronomers need large dishes to capture the waves. Non-reflective surfaces offer an effective method for catching radio waves. With lower energy levels than visible light, disks don’t even have to be solid in order to catch the large waves.

The first device used to collect stray radio waves has a history that traces back to 1931 when Bell Telephone Labs gave Karl Jansky the task of identifying the cause of static plaguing long distance telephone lines. He built the device that by 1933 would eventually help him learn that the interference was actually coming from space. His initial research and findings would help Grote Reber build the first radio disk in 1935, which gave birth to radio astronomy.

Radio astronomy is used to study a range of topics, but the most frequent use involves the mapping of hydrogen emission. Becoming more knowledgeable in this field allowed astronomers to use pieces of information regarding emissions to help verify the structure of the galaxy as being spiral.

Radio dishes equip astronomers with a tool to learn more about the radio spectrum. Most times, the larger the size of the dish, the better the results. However, technological advancements have led to many different inventions, including virtual dishes. The information gathered from dishes comes in the form of a radio image, which utilizes a collection of numbers to deliver data.


Photography also plays an important role in the studies of astronomers. Called astrophotography, this specialized branch of picture taking that focuses on astral objects in the sky, such as stars, planets, the Moon, sun, and other deep sky objects, like the galaxies. Of course, the camera is used to take photos and we use our eyes to pinpoint the objects in the sky that we can identify.

When the average space enthusiast detects the appearance of something of interest in the sky, the majority of our picture taking efforts produces monochromatic images , meaning they are all one color. When astronomers wish to take a photograph of outer space that expresses vivid color, large telescopes and other expensive equipment are used to capture colorful celestial images , which use long period exposures.