From the first, telescopes have made dramatic revelations about the Universe and our place in it. Galileo's observations of the Moon's cratered surface and discovery of Jupiter's four big satellites profoundly altered the perception of the heavens, overturning a two-thousand year cosmology that held the Earth to be the centre of the Universe. Over the past century, the rapid development of computer technology and sophisticated materials allowed enormous strides in the construction of telescopes. Modern telescopes range from large Earth-based optical telescopes and radio arrays linking up across continents, to space-based telescopes capturing the Universe in infrared, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays. In combination, they have enabled us to look deep into the Universe and far back in time, capturing phenomena from galactic collisions to the formation of stars and planetary systems, and mapping the faint glow remaining from the Big Bang.
In this Very Short Introduction, Dr. Geoff Cottrell describes the basic physics of telescopes, the challenges of overcoming turbulence and distortion from the Earth's atmosphere, and the special techniques used to capture X-rays and gamma rays in space telescopes. He explains the crucial developments in detectors and spectrographs that have enabled the high resolution achieved by modern telescopes, and the hopes for the new generation of telescopes currently being built across the world.
1: Grasping light
2: Through the looking glass
3: Windows in the sky
4: Instruments of light
5: A mirror held up to nature
6: The radio sky
7: Telescopes in space
8: The next telescopes
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Dr. Geoff Cottrell began his career as a radio astronomer at Cambridge, observing colliding galaxies. He then moved to plasma physics, to Culham Centre For Fusion Energy and the Joint European Torus (JET) project, working on magnetically confined plasmas, hotter than the centre of the Sun, where he identified a new form of super-thermal radio emission from fusion alpha-particles. He was Director of the Culham International Summer School for Plasma Physics from 2006-2011. He has now returned to his first love, astrophysics, and in recent years has worked with Chris Lintott at Oxford University on the citizen science project, Galaxy Zoo. He is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, and visiting scientist at Rutherford Appleton laboratories, and at the Oxford University Astrophysics Department.