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Optical telescope

From Academic Kids

An optical telescope is a telescope which is used to gather, and focus, light, for directly viewing a magnified image, making a photograph, etc. The term is used especially for a monocular with static mounting for observing the sky. Handheld binoculars are common for other purposes.

Telescopes are sometimes referred to as "photon buckets" as they are used to "collect streams of photons". There are two primary types of optical telescope: reflectors (which use mirrors) and refractors (which use lenses).

The basic scheme is that the primary light-gathering element, called the "objective lens", focuses light to a focal plane where it forms a bright virtual image. An "eyepiece" then magnifies the virtual image. Many types of telescopes fold the optical path with secondary or tertiary mirrors, usually to make the telescope more compact and reduce the width of its field of view.

Contents

Angular Resolution

An optical telescope's angular resolution is determined primarily by the width of the objective, termed its "aperture." Recently, it has become practical to perform aperture synthesis with optical telescopes. Increasingly, high-resolution optical telescopes are actually groups of widely-spaced smaller telescopes, linked together by carefully-controlled optical paths. The sensitivity of a telescope is determined by both the area of its objective, and the sensitivity of the sensor.

F-Ratio

The f-ratio of a telescope denotes how wide an angle the telescope can view. Low f-ratios indicate wide fields of view. Wide-field telescopes are used to track satellites and asteroids, for cosmic-ray research, and for surveys of the sky.

Light-Gathering Power

The light-gathering power of an optical telescope is directly related to the diameter of the objective lens or mirror. Note that the area of a circle is proportional to the square of the diameter. A telescope with a lens which has a diameter three times that of another will have nine times the light-gathering power. Larger objectives gather more light, and more sensitive imaging equipment can produce better images from less light.

Research Telescopes

Nearly all large research-grade astronomical telescopes are reflectors. Some reasons are:

  • In a lens the entire volume of material has to be free of imperfection and inhomogeneities, whereas in a mirror, only one surface has to be perfectly polished.
  • Light of different colors travels through a medium other than vacuum at different speeds. This causes chromatic aberration.
  • There are technical difficulties involved in manufacturing and manipulating large-aperture lenses. One of them is that all real materials sag in gravity. A lens can only be held by its perimeter. A mirror, on the other hand, can be supported by the whole side opposite to its reflecting face.

The size of optical telescopes increased steadily in the early 20th century culminating in the 200-inch telescope at Palomar Observatory which was built in 1948. From then until the 1980s, only one larger telescope was built.

In the 1980s a number of technological improvements were made which created a new generation of telescopes. These advances included the creation of multi-mirror telescopes and the invention of cheap personal computers which could control the mirrors. Another major advanced was the invention of rotating furnaces in which centrifugal force would shape a telescope mirror to close to its final shape.

Names of types:

  • Binoculars are just two monoculars mounted side-by side with adjustments to let both be used. A major practical advantage of these telescopes is not magnification, so much as a brighter field of view at dusk and dawn. Monoculars and binoculars with built-in compasses are used by army artillery units and ships to navigate by triangulating from topographic (shore) features. Hand-held telescopes are limited by hand-shaking to about 7 power. The brightest-field, best-magnifying practical monocular is about 7x50.

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