Hubble Space Telescope

Discussion Question 1: For the past 10 – 20 years observational astronomy has been experiencing a somewhat unprecedented golden age of discovery that rivals those of any other science discipline. This was initiated by the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 although the Hubble did not go into operation until the thing was fixed on orbit following a rather unfortunate engineering lapse that ultimately resulted in its primary mirror to be launched into orbit with an incorrect shape. It turns out that this was not because the mirror was ground into a shape that induced errors on its surface but rather the instrument used to measure the shape of the mirror during this process was not correct in its measurements per the telescope’s design. So the mirror was actually ground according to the returns from this calibration instrument which resulted in the mirror being ground into an entirely wrong shape. Oops.

This explosion in research currently still underway in astronomy has put astronomers in an interesting position because there are not enough astronomers living on planet Earth to keep up with the demand of this high rate of data acquisition. So astronomers have decided that the only natural thing to do in this day and age to help in this regard is though crowd sourcing!

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There are a significant number of humans on this planet who would consider themselves to be amateur astronomers and many of them take this type of hobby very seriously. Professional astronomers have figured this out and thus encourage and even rely on this body of work to perform observations that contribute significant and valuable science. The only difference between a professional observatory and a telescope in someone’s back yard is…well…there is no difference really so the amateur astronomers have the same equipment as professionals if only bit smaller. On an annual basis then these contribute a valuable amount of science that is critical in helping to keep up with this demand and these folks make many new discoveries all the time including finding planets in other star systems. So you too could be an astronomer!

Do a web hunt for tips on buying your first telescope. To research specific instrumentation that are cheap enough for public purchase while maintaining sufficient quality, use the links in the course menu called “Resources” to find a list of sites on this topic. There are certainly many more than are on that list so you are not limited to those. What kind of telescope would you suggest and why? Keep in mind such things as what you want to observe, price, portability, etc. There are a multitude of potential candidates for this assessment and not all of these are positive in their results. What are some important properties of telescopes and how does each property impact the quality of astronomical observations and data collection?

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