Scientists use a variety of different
instruments to look at the stars. Ever since
the 1600s, the most important instrument is still
a telescope. But, telescopes today are much
more powerful than back then. They can see farther
and clearer than before. Originally, telescopes
only saw visible light. Now, we have telescopes
that can also see x-rays, microwaves, infrared,
and other kinds of radiation. This gives us a lot
of information about the properties of stars that
we look at, much more than just their color and
shape. This helps us tell what elements the star
is made of, how hot it is, how old it is, etc.
Scientists look at other things, too, including
planets and comets and asteroids. If we get back
physical samples of any of these, we use the same
tools chemists use to determine what they are made
Probably the most important thing that has
changed since the old days is the precision of the
instruments used. An example of this is how
scientists find new planets. We don't literally
"look" for planets. They're far too small to see.
Instead, we generally look for very very very
small wobbles in a star's rotation. These tiny
wobbles are the result of planets and gravity
making the star spin slightly off its center.
Being able to see this has been compared to
listening for a pin drop at a concert. It's only
by the remarkably precise instruments that we are
able to find these wobbles. The "secret"
instrument used the most is math. Math lets
you calculate planet size and distance from the
wobbles. It also lets you simulate galaxy and star
formation and lives. Math is responsible for
pretty much everything we know in astronomy and is
really important. However, you probably wouldn't
think of that as an instrument.
Click Here to return to the search form.