‘Galactic Chronoscopes’: The Revolution of Space Telescopes in Comprehending the Universe

Space telescopes, such as the Hubble and the James Webb space telescopes, have been altering our perception of the universe since their launch. Despite being no closer to the celestial bodies they observe than Earth-based telescopes, they offer a clearer view of the universe, unobscured by atmospheric turbulence, clouds, or haze.

The idea of sending telescopes into space to circumvent these issues was proposed by American physicist Lyman Spitzer in 1946. The first significant space telescope, the Hubble, was launched by NASA in 1990. Its unique vantage point made it far more potent than any ground-based instrument, resulting in the stunning images we’ve become accustomed to. Nonetheless, these images are a minor part of Hubble’s mission. The primary objective is scientific research, which has been the basis of over 20,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Space telescopes also have the advantage of being able to observe extremely faint objects thanks to the entirely black background sky in space. This is demonstrated by the Hubble’s “deep field” images, which are the result of pointing at the same patch of sky and aggregating the results over many days. These images provide a glimpse into the past due to the finite speed of light.

Space telescopes have been instrumental in the search for exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system. The transit method, in which astronomers observe a dip in a star’s brightness when a planet passes in front of it, has been used to discover thousands of exoplanets. NASA’s Kepler telescope, launched in 2009, discovered at least 2,700 exoplanets by the end of its lifespan in 2018.

Space telescopes also allow for the observation of wavelengths that do not penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere. This has opened up parts of the electromagnetic spectrum that were previously inaccessible. Telescopes like the James Webb space telescope, which extends its coverage into the infrared spectrum, are designed to penetrate dust clouds and view faint objects.

As scientific understanding evolves, the demand for more advanced space telescopes continues to grow. The European Space Agency’s Euclid, launched in 2021, aims to map the distribution of billions of galaxies to shed light on the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter.

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