Telescopes from the Ground Up

Above it all

Despite recent strides made with adaptive optics on ground-based telescopes, space telescopes are still the best option for avoiding the blurriness caused by the atmosphere. NASA’s Great Observatories program constructed four orbiting telescopes — the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope. Other space telescopes, like the James Webb Space Telescope, are being planned and built.

Space telescopes have their drawbacks as well. They’re much more expensive to build and launch than ground-based observatories. Because they must be launched into space, they can’t be as large as ground-based observatories. Finally, because space telescopes remain in orbit, fixing and upgrading them can be either difficult or impossible. When they eventually break down, they’re gone forever. For now, though, space telescopes give humanity the clearest view of the universe.

In a nutshell...

By placing telescopes in orbit above the Earth, astronomers were finally free to view the universe in all wavelengths of light.

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