Scientists Say: Telescope

A telescope is a tool used to view distant objects

a teen girl in a hat, scarf and coat looks through a backyard telescope on a starry night

Optical telescopes like this one collect and focus light that the human eye can see. Other types of telescopes collect invisible light, such as X-rays and radio waves.

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Telescope (noun, “TEH-leh-skohp”)

Telescopes are tools used to view distant objects. They collect and focus more light than our eyes could on their own. In general, bigger telescopes collect more light and offer better views. Some telescopes even collect types of light that the human eye cannot see. Much of what we know about the universe comes from telescope observations.

Optical telescopes gather and focus light mainly from the visible part of the spectrum. In other words, the light we can see. They do this using glass lenses or mirrors. You might set up this type of telescope in your backyard. With it, you could view craters on the moon or the moons of Jupiter.

Some large optical telescopes are housed in observatories on the ground. Others are sent into space, where their views aren’t blurred by Earth’s atmosphere. The Hubble Space Telescope is one example.

Other telescopes look at different types of light. Huge ground-based dishes collect radio waves from space. Many radio observatories around the world worked together to produce the first image of a black hole. The new James Webb Space Telescope collects infrared light. This observatory has gotten the clearest views yet of the most distant parts of the universe. Other telescopes are built to collect X-rays, gamma rays or ultraviolet light.

Using different types of telescopes to look at the same object can paint a more complete picture of that light source than any one telescope alone.

In a sentence

The new James Webb Space Telescope is unveiling the most distant, early universe like we’ve never seen it before.

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Maria Temming is the Assistant Managing Editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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